Tag Archives: Paksie Vernon



Trafalgar Theatre

PEOPLE, PLACES & THINGS at the Trafalgar Theatre


“a gripping performance that shoots up right into our bloodstream”

In Duncan Macmillan’s unsettling play, “People, Places and Things”, we are taken headlong into the mind of an addict in forensic detail. Without the need of a surgeon’s eye glass or scalpel we witness the outer layers being peeled back by the incisive dialogue, the razor-sharp acting. But also Jeremy Herrin’s staging which is inseparable from Bunny Christie’s set design that pulses throughout to the distorted and fractured rhythms of the protagonist’s identity. Identities even, whether they are true or false. We are never sure, and neither is she. How can you lie about who or what you are when you believe there is no truth to begin with?

‘She’ is Nina, drunkenly murdering Chekhov’s iconic dialogue. But then she is Emma, taking a line of cocaine before reluctantly checking into rehab. Then again, she might not even be Emma. One thing we are certain of, though, is the sheer, brutal brilliance of Denise Gough’s portrayal of this complex and compelling character. We cannot escape her, trapped as she is in Christie’s white tiled set with its hidden doors and camouflaged ventilation grids that allow little breathing space. It bursts into chaotic crashes of techno nightlife before melting back into the mundane sobriety of a rehab clinic. Everything is an extension of her mind, even the people.



A running gag is the fact that Emma’s therapist and doctor are the spitting image of her mother. Sinéad Cusack gives a stunning performance in all three roles including the mother, highlighting the contrasts and the similarities of each character. The therapist’s ‘cruel-to-be-kind’ approach offset by the mother’s bitter, beaten, and threadbare love for a daughter she thinks doesn’t deserve it. Similarly, Kevin McMonagle doubles as a crazed rehab patient, re-emerging as Emma’s father in Act Two. There is no moralising here. Just a bare dissection of grief in the wake of a dead son and brother.

The fall out of addiction is the core of the piece, and we see it through Emma’s eyes. Macmillan offers no judgement whatsoever as each aspect is picked apart. Gough takes us on an authentic journey through the milestones of denial, anger, anxiety, paranoia, truculence, withdrawal. A personality shattered into many shards, none of them trustworthy or trusting. Nightmares unfold before her eyes as Emma emerges in multiple forms, crawling from the walls, out of the bed, twitching and spinning around her until you can’t really tell which one is the real Emma. James Farncombe’s lighting plunges us into Emma’s drug-fuelled blackouts with a ferociousness matched by Tom Gibbons’ soundscape.

Mercifully there is hope. Malachi Kirby, as fellow user Mark, describes himself as a ’scream in search of a mouth’ but ends up working at the clinic as a volunteer. He has more than a second sight. All knowing, he helps pull the truth from Emma as she eventually tries to ‘come clean’ – in all senses of the word. Not everybody is so lucky. We learn how profoundly difficult it is for the addict to avoid the people, places and things that can, at any time, trigger a relapse. The emotional confrontations are frighteningly true to life and at times devastating. Yet the miracle is that there is still plenty of room for humour, and the central theme of addiction steps back once in a while to let these multi-layered personalities fill the stage. There is a humanity in all the performances that transcends the subject matter. Yet it is always there, as a grim and palpitating pulse. And at its heart is Gough – in a gripping performance that shoots up right into our bloodstream. The play is truly addictive.


PEOPLE, PLACES & THINGS at the Trafalgar Theatre

Reviewed on 15th May 2024

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Marc Brenner



Previously reviewed at this venue:

JERSEY BOYS | ★★★★ | August 2021



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Gin Craze

Gin Craze!


Royal & Derngate

Gin Craze

Gin Craze!

Royal and Derngate Theatre

Reviewed – 21st July 2021



“The energy of the full ensemble numbers has the audience clapping and whooping”


This new musical – book and lyrics by April de Angelis, music and lyrics by Lucy Rivers – brings to life William Hogarth’s shocking 1751 etching ‘Gin Lane’ portraying grotesque caricatures of people suffering from the Gin Craze that was rife in the early part of the eighteenth century. As the curtain rises, we meet a number of these ladies under the influence who sing, dance, and extol the virtues of their favourite tipple. A pawn broker’s sign hangs close to the stage, the same sign as in Hogarth’s print.

The set (designed by Hayley Grindle) is built on two levels and reinforces a view of the class divide with the wealthy Fielding family and a semi-sozzled Queen Caroline appearing on the upper level whilst the gin ladies are firmly rooted on the ground and at the bottom of society. Through the shadows of wooden beams and hanging ropes, we can see various musical instruments: harpsichord, violin, cello, double bass, guitar, timpani. Each member of the eight strong ensemble takes their turn at becoming the band. Plus the ever-present MD Tamara Saringer at the keys.

For much of the time we could describe this as a folk musical. The singing is gentle and refined, the lyrics ballad-like in form, and the duets between the two main leads contain excellent close folk harmonies. The arrangement of the songs is most striking particularly those making use of violin and cello underlay.

The energy of the full ensemble numbers has the audience clapping and whooping. “Gin Dive” is the standout song that reappears close to the end in a poignant unaccompanied close harmony version. “It’s the Law” becomes a good old cockney knees-up with comedy trombone. Many of the scenes can be described as bawdy – and are especially enjoyed because of that – at times they are out-and-out plain rude.

The plot – or the message of the show, perhaps – is summed up with the song title, “What does a woman have to do to get a better life?”. We follow the journey of Mary (Aruhan Galieva) who whilst working as a servant is knocked up by the visiting priest, kicked out into the street, tricked into giving away her baby, and narrowly avoids rape and prostitution by setting up as a gin hawker. We learn that life for a woman is not a bed of roses. But then, Mary befriends Lydia (Paksie Vernon), her saving grace.

Director Michael Oakley produces the most spirited scenes when the gin women appear on stage together. If their individual characters do appear on the caricature side of sincere then we can allow that they may have been first based upon a cartoon. But, in the midst of tragedy, despite the best efforts of this hard-working cast, there is little tension to be felt and we remain unmoved. Particularly, much of the momentum is lost after the interval as attention turns away from the rumbustious Gin Lane into the genteel home of the foppish Henry Fielding (Alex Mugnaioni) and his do-gooder sister Sarah (Rachel Winters).

April de Angelis and Lucy Rivers have created a most fascinating feminist – and musical – response to an interesting period of English history which reflects well on Hogarth’s masterpiece that initially inspired the idea.



Reviewed by Phillip Money

Photography by Ellie Kurttz


Gin Craze!

Royal and Derngate Theatre  until 31st July


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Animal Farm | ★★★★ | Royal & Derngate | May 2021


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