reviewed at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 21 November
The concept of a box set takes on a new definition in this collaborative project from Headlong, the National Theatre, Manchester’s HOME and Exeter’s Northcott Theatre. The proscenium arch is framed with a white rectangle, like the lip of a box. Like any such container, it can hold a variety of things.
Duncan Macmillan’s play is a no-holds-barred almost clinically forensic examination of addiction and some of the therapies which seek to address the multitude of forms which it takes. The central character is an actress called Sarah (stage name Emma), given a magnificent three-dimensional portrait by Lisa Dwyer Hogg.
She’s onstage and at the centre of the action throughout as we watch her descent into a hell of her own making and her struggles to clamber out of it. Emma/Sarah is not a sympathetic person and Dwyer Hogg’s achievement lies partly in the way in which she makes this plain.
Directors Jeremy Herrin and Holly Race Roughan surround her with a shoal of would-be helpers, some of whom – like her parents – are completely out of their depth. Matilda Ziegler plays the doctor, therapist and mother showing that even tough love may not be enough to break the cycle.
Ekow Quartey is the nurse who has seen it all before many times, but retains his humanity and desire to help. There’s an interesting double of alcoholic Paul and Sarah’s father by Trevor Fox. Mark draws another rounded portrait of an addict who has learned to accept his weaknesses and so guards against them from Andrew Sheridan.
That white set is by Bunny Christie, lit by James Farncombe and pierced by the soundscapes of Tom Gibbons and Matthew Herbert. I suppose that these days most of us know someone who appears to be about to if not actually tripped into the addiction spectrum. That makes this drama hard-hitting; it remains a gripping piece of theatre on any level.
Four and a half-star rating.
People, Places & Things runs at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until 25 November with matinées on 23 and 25 November.