I’m a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester.
Stage of recovery
Drama therapy is a familiar concept these days and at times watching the new production at HOME, I did wonder if we were watching group therapy or taking part in it.
People, Places & Things is about an actress who comes alive when she is on stage. It is when she is without a script that she flounders and intoxicating demons invite themselves into the void. When her addictions start to interfere with her on-stage performances, she seeks professional help (whether NHS or private I was not quite sure).
Emma (Lisa Dwyer Hogg) in one of her many roles. Photo by Johan Persson.
The drama could have been written as a monologue – with Emma (Lisa Dwyer Hogg) telling us her story. Instead, Duncan Macmillan wrote an ensemble piece - with most actors playing two roles.
Emma's internal experience on drugs and in detox is conveyed via fluorescent flashes of light and clones crawling through the walls and out of her hospital bed. Credit must go to the designers (Bunny Christie, Christina Cunningham, James Farncombe, Tom Gibbons and Andrzej Goulding) for achieving this. It is not a play to see if you have a headache.
The middle section of the story starts when Emma, under protest, joins group therapy. She is the clever, attention-seeking girl in the class and an unreliable narrator forced into a truth-sharing situation.
Why should we care about someone who seems so self-centred and disruptive of her fellow patients? The answer lies in the way Emma is entertaining when she pokes fun at therapy clichés but also gives us glimpses into the way her obstinacy is underpinned by fear of collapsing into a pit of guilt and loneliness.
Group therapy and disruption. Photo by Johan Persson.
There are many intellectual allusions in the play – Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, amongst others. At one point, the Doctor (Matilda Ziegler) asks: "So you're an addict because of post-modernism?"
At one level, this line is a precision needle-prick of intellectual pretension but there is a truth inside it. The play asks how, in a culture where religious certainties have been eroded, we can find meaning and direction. Duncan Macmillan seems to suggest that we have to choose the roles which give us personal satisfaction, without harming the lives of others.
The therapy role-play has an echo of the play-within-a-play technique. In addition to Hamlet and its tormented anti-hero, the story also reminded me of Wit, by Margaret Edson (staged at Manchester's Royal Exchange, 2016) where an articulate patient reluctantly peels away their layers of self-defence, like an actor taking off a costume.
It's no surprise that Duncan Macmillan's drama made its debut at a venue as illustrious as the National Theatre (in 2015). However, People, Places & Things would fall flat without a central performance as vivid as the one by Lisa Dwyer Hogg.
She has the energy and dexterity required to spend two hours as a protagonist who is always hiding behind sophistry and facades. We end the night hoping that she will choose life and the role of a former - not a returning - addict. I also enjoyed the comic timing of Trevor Fox, as the remorseful Paul, who, like Emma, disrupts group sessions, albeit in a less eloquent way.
Emma (Lisa Dwyer Hogg). Photo by Johan Persson.
People, Places & Things is directed by Jeremy Herrin with Holly Race Roughan.
It's tour dates include:
Oxford Playhouse (11 – Saturday 14 October 2017)
Theatre Royal Bath (Tuesday 17 – Saturday 21 October 2017)
Bristol Old Vic (Tuesday 24 – Saturday 28 October 2017)
Exeter Northcott Theatre (Tuesday 31 October – Saturday 4 November 2017)
Nuffield Southampton Theatres (Tuesday 7 – Saturday 11 November 2017)
Liverpool Playhouse Theatre (Tuesday 14 – Saturday 18 November 2017)