Reviews Roundup: People, Places & Things

Trafalgar Theatre

A woman screaming on a bed in a scene from People, Places and Things at Trafalgar Theatre
Denise Gough in People, Places & Things. Photo: Marc Brenner

It’s a bit like bands playing their greatest hits. Last year Mark Rylance revived his performance as Rooster Byron in Jerusalem. This year we have Denise Gough returning in Duncan Macmillan‘s People, Place & Things. The revival recreates the exact 2015 production with the same director (Jeremy Herrin) and set designer (Bunny Christie) with critics agreeing that Ms Gough is every bit as good and, in some opinions, even better, as the actress who lies to others and herself as she struggles with addiction.

Susannah Clapp in The Observer (5★) declared, ‘Jeremy Herrin’s tremendous production, with tremendous Gough, is even better second time around.’ Anya Ryan in The Times (5★) said, ‘as nauseating and adrenaline-spiking as it gets, this is also theatre at its most vivid.’ It was, she declared, ‘an unforgettable night.’ Sam Marlowe in The Stage (5★) pulled out every adjective in her dictionary to praise the play and its star. ‘Duncan Macmillan’s drama is a hurtling exploration of addiction, existential crisis and identity, at once visceral and brainy, and Jeremy Herrin’s staging…is electrifying: a sensory immersion galvanised with euphoria and panic, rage, fear and pain.’ As for Denise Gough, her character’s struggle against addiction ‘is conveyed with such sweaty, nauseous, wracking vividness that, watching it, you almost forget to breathe.’ There are yet more adjectives: ‘Gough is blazingly charismatic, combining pugnacious swagger, fierce intelligence and raw vulnerability’

Alun Hood at WhatsOnStage (5★) also thought it was better than ever: ‘While you can’t improve on perfection, you can still surround it with such levels of excellence that its lustre seems magnified so that it shines even brighter.’  He listed the components: ‘Andrzej Goulding’s unsettling video designs, Bunny Christie’s clinical tiled set (featuring audience members onstage as though taking part in a particularly elaborate group therapy session) and above all Tom Gibbons’ sound and Matthew Herbert’s music…conspire to suggest a life tumbling out of control.’ He concluded it was ‘A painful pleasure, and a must-see all over again.’ It was not to be missed, agreed Aliya Al-Hassan at Broadway World (5★): ‘Staging, writing and acting meld into a pretty perfect production. However, this is very much Gough’s show; her mesmeric and urgent performance is a must-see.’

Jessie Thompson, Arts Editor at The Independent (5★), thought Denise Gough was better than ever, saying her performance ‘appears only to have grown in richness and exquisite fragility’. She praised the production as ‘a celebration of the healing power of art and theatre. It’s an electric communal experience. The play can now be regarded as a contemporary classic, Gough’s performance confirmed as one of the greatest of her generation.’

Nick Curtis in The Standard (5★) brought out the superlatives. ‘I’ve rarely seen a show where script, production and star mesh so perfectly. Bursts of pumping techno express moments of chaos and abandon. Bunny Christie’s antiseptic rehab-centre set is a blank canvas for staticky video projection and sudden eruptions: it frames a bank of audience members on the stage behind, so we can all have a good, hard look at ourselves.’ Even more than that, ‘it’s Gough’s navigation of a gamut of emotion, from withdrawal jitters to defensive truculence, disinhibition to raw vulnerability, that drives the evening. She’s magnificent.’ Olivia Rook for LondonTheatre (5★) agreed, ‘Gough’s titanic performance is still the beating heart of this play.’

Fiona Mountford at the i (4★) said, ‘this is Gough’s show and she is, once again, quite simply magnificent.’

Both the star and play wowed Time Out‘s (4★) Andrzej Lukowski. ‘Gough is magnificent and absurd in equal measure, a performance that’s simultaneously high comedy and high tragedy.’ He had reservations about the play but went on to say: ‘the first half’s whiff of cliche feels like an effective way of lulling us into a false sense of security before a second half that has to rank as one of the greatest in twenty-first century drama.’

Arifa Akbar in The Guardian (4★) ‘Bunny Christie’s pulsating white set design shows Emma (Denise Gough) bared – a specimen to be examined through the speculum of the stage, while simultaneously taking us into her mind, with all its distorted perceptions. The configuration of the auditorium mirrors this duality, giving the illusion of an audience that is seeing itself from without as well as being within.’ It was, she said, ‘bleak – but also brilliantly done’

A rare vote of dissent came from Nick Ferris in The Telegraph (3★). He couldn’t deny the power of the lead: ‘Gough has lost none of her power in bringing this complicated antiheroine to life. It is truly a summit performance for an actor that should be studied at drama schools for years to come’, but he questioned the quality of the play. He said, ‘It is certainly entertaining, but achieves this end only through playing to the basic dark allure that stories of drugs and broken people have.’ Worse than that, ‘Act two, unfortunately, sees the plot lose its way, descending into a mix of cheap stereotype and unrealistic climax.’ ‘In the end,’ he lamented, ‘it feels a shame that the story cannot sustain itself to meet the heights of Gough’s performance.’

Average critics’ rating 4.6★
Value Rating 53 (Value rating is the Average Critic Rating divided by the typical ticket price. In theory, this means the higher the score the better value but, because of price variations, a West End show could be excellent value if it scores above 30 while an off-West End show may need to score above 60.)

People, Places & Things is at the Trafalgar Theatre until 10 August 2024. Buy tickets directly from Trafalgar Theatre.

Read Paul Seven Lewis’s review of the original production of People Places & Things

If you’ve seen People, Places & Things, please add your review and rating below

Be the first to write a review

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *