People, Places and Things

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All photos used here with permission of Headlong Theatre and official production photographer Johan Persson.


‘If this all depends on me having a spiritual awakening then we might all just be wasting our time.’

(Denise Gough’s character Emma in People, Places and Things)

People, Places and Things is running at the Wyndham Theatre after transferring from the National. It stars Denise Gough as Emma, a failed actor and a reluctant entrant into a treatment facility. She won an Olivier for her remarkable performance.

Written by Duncan Macmillan, it is a nightly sell-out. When we went, the bar ran out of water.

Early on in her treatment, there is the inevitable debate about God.

‘If it’s vital to my recovery that I come to believe in a power greater than me… to turn my will and my life over to God and to have him remove my defects of character… if this all depends on me having a spiritual awakening then we might all just be wasting our time,” she tells the doctor.

She’s worried that a ‘trained medical professional’ can wear a crucifix.

‘I really need you to be cleverer than this,’ she continues. ‘I really need you to at least match me intellectually because otherwise I’m going to leave and if I leave I don’t know if….’

She cannot bring herself to believe in a supernatural being.

‘I can’t surrender to a higher power because there isn’t one. There just isn’t. And you, as someone who lives in the twenty-first century, should know that.’

She also raises what she says is the flawed premise of the Twelve Step programmes.

‘You want me to conceptualise a universe in which I am the sole agent of my destiny and at the same time acknowledge my absolute powerlessness. It’s a fatal contradiction.’

She can’t meditate on a beach and mistake relaxation for spirituality. She spent a year in the Far East and found slums and sex tourism, not enlightenment.

The doctor confesses that in its early days, the programme was very much about accepting God. But in this treatment facility, they use a modified version of the steps with religiously neutral wording. Hence the title. Emma’s treatment involves learning to accept she is powerless over people, places and things.


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