People, Places and Things is an excellent look inside the world of a 12-step-style rehab. In the lead role, Denise Gough brings a perfect portrayal of all the often contradictory attitudes and body language of the addict and alcoholic. Gough plays Emma (or Sarah or Lucy, depending on her identity crisis), who comes to rehab, and back again – more bruised than before.
To begin with the rehab is presented as austere, Orwellian: all white coats and clipboards. There are some striking touches – including half a dozen identical ‘Emmas’ on stage at once, personifying her tormented state of mind.
In rehab you have to find your true self in front of others. Then you have to learn how to cope with – or avoid – people, places and things. Easier said than done.
First time round, Emma thinks she has all the answers and refuses to get ‘God’ or ‘The Group’. The second time, she opens up and starts her recovery, only to find there’s a serious sting in the tail when she tries to make amends to the people who had previously been there at her derailment. But who’s to say people want to be amended to and move on? They might have got used to what they were like before, when the addict was still in place.
Emma is an actress and her addiction is bound up with her playing parts in her profession and her own life. She observes that getting ready to do a play and preparing for recovery are not that different: she says both start with people sitting in a circle introducing themselves and seeing how they get along. There is a play within the play.
There are many light touches – like when Emma is advised to say ‘amen’ at the end of a prayer: ‘It’s like pressing send on an email’ and when one of those in treatment ends up as a worker at the rehab when he’s well: ‘living the dream’.
I think anyone who has been to rehab or is in recovery will identify hugely with this play and be reminded of the intensity of addiction and the rollercoaster and relief of trying to get well.
People, Places and Things asks important questions about what is on offer in recovery treatments. It scrutinises the 12-step axiom of the defects of character of those in addiction: Emma’s point is that it might just have something to do with the defects of the world.
On at the Wyndham’s Theatre, Covent Garden, until 18 June. People, Places and Things is written by Duncan Macmillan and directed by Jeremy Herrin, the play is a co-production between Headlong and the National Theatre. Mark Reid is a peer worker at Path to Recovery.