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PREVIEW: People, Places and Things transfers to West End

Headlong’s People, Places and Things has sold out its entire run at the National Theatre and has announced plans to transfer to the West End in March 2016. Maryam Philpott went along to the National Theatre to see an excerpt from the hit show and hear about the plans for the transfer.

People, Places and Things by Duncan Macmillan,sold out its entire run at the National Theatre and has earned a West End transfer, opening at Wyndham’s on 15 March. This follows in the wake of other successes for the company including 1984, also scripted by Macmillan, which had two runs at the Playhouse Theatre, and The Nether which came from The Royal Court and stunned the West End with its acclaimed discussion of the morality of online paedophilia.

Their latest project People, Places and Things is no less challenging, examining the nature of alcohol and drug addiction using Headlong’s innovative staging and design techniques. Set largely in a rehab facility, it follows actress Emma who ruins a production of The Seagull because she’s drunk and decides she needs help. Director Jeremy Herrin explained that the play has been popular with audiences because it allows them to follow Emma on her mission. Actress Denise Gough who plays her reiterated this idea and said that Emma becomes a character that people care deeply about regardless of whether they have experienced addiction.

When asked about his inspiration for the play, writer Duncan Macmillan explained that he consciously wanted to create an ensemble piece with a mid-30s female protagonist in response to complaints that there aren’t enough serious leading rôles for actresses. Macmillan then spoke about the media presentation of addiction as something that can be treated and closed, so this play deliberately and more realistically shows Emma’s struggle as something that will affect her beyond the period in rehab.

While People, Places and Things has lots of humour, it approaches addiction from a serious and realistic standpoint. The company perform a20-minute extract and it’s clear that Emma is sympathetic, and Macmillan’s script ensures no one is laughing at her. This play is a far cry from populist ideas of addictions like alcoholism where soap characters are cured within days or from the sideshow nature of celebrities checking into The Priory. Like Steve McQueen’s brilliant sex-addiction film Shame, People, Places and Things takes a more immersive approach to addiction as a ‘parasite’ and in doing so, as Herrin proudly suggests, Headlong is ‘chipping away’ at traditional notions of what a West End play ought to look like.

The transfer to Wyndham’s in March, Herrin continued, will allow even more people to experience this innovative and affecting piece of theatre. Most importantly, Denise Gough emphasised there will be 120 tickets at £15 every day to allow a wider audience to engage with the play and its debates. ‘A character chooses you’, she says of her Evening Standard Award-nominated performance, so a new run of this play will allow more people to meet Emma and to experience Headlong’s searing production.

People, Places and Things, transfers to the Wyndham’s Theatre from 15 March – 4 June 2016 |Image: Johan Persson

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