People, Places and Things by Duncan MacMillan
HOME, Manchester [27.09.17]
We’re looking at a big, white, lidless, front-less box with a crepe paper-esque back wall. The walls have a tiled effect and a padded air about them. This isn’t the best way to debunk the cliches that surround rehab and psych treatment units but still lets hope what follows is somewhat of an improvement.
Our piece begins with a barrage of sound that can only be likened to being in the middle of an augmented reality of a wild, 90s version of laser tag. We are then dropped into a replica of Chekov’s The Seagull. We are here only briefly until Nina has a nose bleed and time splinters and changes.
People, Places and Things is an exploration of a woman’s drug and alcohol addictions and, her journey through rehab. Though Emma is quite the comedian, there is clearly something very dark and unsettling bothering her. We first encounter Emma as Emma in a reception area. She is on the phone quite frantic giving instructions to the person on the other end about things they need to do in her house. She spends a lot of time calling this person a cunt. It turns out to be her mother. Very affectionate.
But of course, this heart warming moment is disrupted by a half dressed man with ‘the end’ written across his chest, charging into the reception, shouting and ready to fight a nurse with a chair. To shut him up, they give him an injection and plonk him in a wheelchair. Yes, all the mental health stereotypes alive and kicking. Just what we need more of…
Emma is a compulsive liar. She lies about her name. She lies about her life. She’s an actor and so there’s an argument that she lies for a living. Emma has a lot of blackouts and one suicide attempt under her belt. She also has the sense of humour that only forms when you’re sick of tired of being asked whether you have plans to harm yourself and how you’re feeling today. Sarcasm is her vice – it’s almost as important for her functioning as the drugs are – potentially more.
Emma never finishes anything. Violin lessons, diets etc she just doesn’t follow through. And this is the quality of Emma that is most relatable – addict or not, mental illness or not – we’ve all got a back log of things that we never managed to finish or didn’t have the motivation to follow through with. And it is this universal quality, that can make Emma’s story accessible even if you’ve never experienced addiction and mental ill health.
We watch her journey through rehab: rubbing people up the wrong way, falling off the wagon, hating everything group based, denying needing help and eventually embracing the support of her group and practitioner. But most importantly, we see her realise that it’s not about ‘being fixed’, it’s about being okay with ourselves and addressing things that have impacted who we are and how we function. None of us our broken. Some of us just need a little extra help to realign ourselves with our surroundings and work through things that have affected us.
Lisa Dwyer Hogg gives an incredible performance as Emma. She animates and embodies Duncan Macmillan’s words with skill and control. The character of Emma is well formed and developed however, the same cannot be said for some of the other characters in this piece. Many of the rehab participants felt quite hollow, as did the character of Foster at times. It was disappointing that all of the people of colour within this production played some of the seemingly less developed characters.
Verdict: Some strong performances and important themes but too many cliches and stereotypes.