Feature | Addiction and the Audience in People, Places & Things

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by guest critic Steven Strauss

Heaps of deserved praise has been showered on Jeremy Herrin’s production of Duncan Macmillan’s People, Places & Things, with much directed at Denise Gough’s thrillingly committed performance of a struggling actor in rehab. Yet after seeing it at Wyndham’s Theatre in mid-2016 then its New York City run this year, it’s easy to see there’s more to it than Gough. A second, transatlantic viewing proves just how thoroughly the production theatricalises addicts’ experiences in order to generate audience empathy with the struggle to overcome addiction.

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In Memory of Leaves, Fordham Gallery Barge

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Since 2013, Natasha Langridge has watched her neighbourhood become unrecognisable. As the developers and their machinery creep ever closer with every passing month, she documents their journey along side her love life. Birds sing in trees as she falls in love with Dave who lives in Korea, and those trees are chopped down as she gets off with her much younger Drama Lover.

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Bubble Schmeisis, Battersea Arts Centre

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Nick Cassenbaum grew up in London’s Jewish community and experienced all the cultural mores that go with it – Spurs games, dubious summer camps, trips to Israel and discovering his willy isn’t like the other boys’ at school. Like many young people as he got older, he hadn’t quite found his place in the world. Until he went with his grandfather, Papa Alan, to the Canning Town bathhouse.

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The Monkey, Theatre 503

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Tel and Dal are two Sarf London geezas who grew up together on a Bermondsey estate. Dapper and ambitious Tel has moved up in the criminal underworld, away from Dal’s small-scale thieving so they don’t see each other much. Dal’s less aspirational, still robbing people on the street with his mate Becks. When they’re not out working, Dal and Becks get their drugs from young dealer Al, who lives upstairs. Life’s ticking along as normal until Tel shows up unannounced looking for the money he leant to Al a month ago. Tel’s volatile temperament, sharp intelligence and vanity mean the other three are no match for the increasing danger.

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Save + Quit, VAULT Festival

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Joe and Steph are two lonely Londoners, and Cara and Dylan are dealing with grief in Dublin. The four young people, in two pairs of intertwined stories, disclose their anxieties and struggles in narrative monologues that are strong examples of moving storytelling. But they are only loosely linked thematically, and there is little that conveys a wider reason for placing these characters within the same work. The stories command attention as do the performances, but the question of why they are presented together never disappears.

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This Must Be the Place, VAULT Festival

by guest critic Nastazja Somers

“Home, is where I want to be / Pick me up and turn around / I feel numb, born with a week heart/ I guess I must be having fun”

David Byrne’s lyrics to ‘This Must Be the Place’, one of the biggest hits from Talking Heads, can be easily seen as the inspiration for the production of This Must Be the Place which, after playing at the Latitude Festival, is now at VAULT Festival. Acclaimed playwrights Brad Birch and Kenneth Emson target the themes of loneliness and belonging in a moving and captivating way. However, whilst the piece is also beautifully acted and directed, it lacks a certain precision in conveying its message.

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Lines, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Every Londoner has strong feelings about the tube. They love it, hate it, love to hate it, depend on it, avoid it, sometimes all at once. In Lines, Rose Bruford students pay homage to the underground by extracting individuals from the millions of faces that blur through stations each day. A collage of movement, narration and dialogue captures the diversity of the city with a lovely affection, but the tangled, underdeveloped plot threads that emerge aren’t followed through.

Writer Ian Horgan has numerous lovely ideas but none of them, even the fictional disaster that has the power to unite passengers, is chosen as the narrative spine. Whilst this adds to the montage effect of individual moments, it’s a format that only works for short periods of time. There are certainly some great stories of individual characters and any of them could be short plays in and of themselves, but here they are unsatisfying. The sections of spoken word vary in the quality of delivery, but this is a style that Horgan uses inconsistently. The use of live music is much more regular, and a great contribution to the piece.

There are some great performances, as should be expected from drama school students. No one stands out as a weak link and their time training together has formed a seamless ensemble. Lines also has the distinction of one of the more ethnically diverse productions of the fringe, which in and of itself is hugely commendable.

Though this affectionate tribute to London transport has plenty of potential, it falls short of true excitement or innovation in its current form.

Lines runs through 15th August.

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