Is there any subject as thoroughly mined for pathos as addiction? Don’t misunderstand, this isn’t a dig at Trafalgar Theatre’s revival of People Places and Things, it’s a question that the play all but encourages you to ask. Duncan Macmillan’s award-winning script encourages you to draw parallels between group therapy, acting workshops and corporate speak and does it all with some fantastic rug-pulls.
Emma (Denise Gough) is an actor, struggling with her career and substance issues, who after ruining a production of The Seagull, checks herself into rehab. The play keeps putting Emma in situations that call for honesty – as an actor it’s the one thing she feels is beneath her, her life is boring compared to the stage, a world where “You get to live the most intense moments of a life over and over again.” Is it any wonder that she’d turn to drugs? Gough’s performance won awards the first time the play was on, and it’s no wonder seeing her on stage – she gnashes her teeth at care-workers, wails down the phone at her mum and knocks back pills/booze/powders like they’re at risk of becoming unfashionable. Backing her up is Sinéad Cusack who plays a number of women, all of whom oddly remind Emma of her mother, who she also (of course) plays; Cusack does an exceptional job.
I missed seeing this the first time round, when it was at the Dorfman – I heard that Matthew Herbert’s jarring score was piped through the building at the interval, to make sure the audience did not have a moment of peace – a fantastically Brechtian touch, sadly lost in the transport to the West End. Definitely worth watching!
And I revisited a theatrical treat… ‘There is a way to be good again’ is a poignant sentiment and very pertinent to our world today. It is also integral to The Kite Runner (Yvonne Arnaud), the Matthew Spangler’s stage adaptation of Afghan American writer Khaled Hosseini’s novel, a moving story about Amir, a young boy from Kabul, set against the backdrop of historic and tumultuous events in his country. A tale about friendship put to the ultimate test which ends with inspiring redemption after a long period riven by guilt. It has been many years since I saw the West End premiere and this touring production, directed by Giles Croft, distills the complexity of the tale into simple, eloquent storytelling beautifully capturing the essence of Hosseini’s work.
It begins with Amir living as a grown man and successful writer in the USA, reflecting on his childhood and friendship with Hassan. The young Amir does not understand the deep-seated hatred engrained in the different Afghani ethnic groups and it leads to a pivotal scene during which Hasaan suffers a brutal attack, which Amir fails to prevent paralysed by fear. The friendship is over, but Amir is determined to atone for his transgression. It comes when after his eventual marriage to Soraya, in spite of her father’s obvious dislike for him, they have an opportunity to adopt Hassan’s son Sohrab.
The cast are excellent and I particularly enjoyed the understated way in which they brought the story to life dispensing with unnecessary melodrama. That is not to say there are powerful emotions expressed. Both Yazan Quafori (Hassan and Sohrab) and Stuart Vincent (Amir) also have a wonderful joie de vivre when portraying their younger selves. Childlike not childish as some actors are prone to do. The sounds of Afghanistan are evocatively and skilfully conveyed by tabla player Hanif Khan providing live accompaniment, giving the production authenticity and a beating musical heart, complimenting Jonathan Girling’s impressive score. After Amir helps Sohrab win his first kite fight (it’s huge and symbolic in Afghanistan) and the boys smiles gently, Amir says “For you, a thousand times over” like Hassan did many years ago. Redeemed at last.

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