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Interview | Olivier Award winner Denise Gough talks ‘People, Places & Things’

By Cliff Joannou

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Denise Gough has won universal acclaim for her “emotionally shattering” portrayal of an alcoholic in rehab in People, Places & Things, and last night scooped the coveted ‘Best Actress’ prize at the Olivier Awards in London. We caught up with the Irish actress in Attitude’s April Issue to find out more…

You perform a very emotionally intense character. Is it painful to go through that every night?

I play a lot of really emotional women, and playing them eight times a week you get used to it, somehow. But this one is a really intense night for me every night in the theatre. I have be like an athlete and not do very much else so I can recover every day from it. I’m getting ready by doing pilates and building up my core. It’s about getting my body really strong. It’s an amazing experience, you feel high as a kite afterwards.

How does it affect your mind?

For me it’s a joyful play. Even though it’s emotional it’s a very uplifting part. I feel like it’s a happy story even though you have to go through the mill to get there. It’s also a real privilege. I had a year of not working, and it’s my dream job. I’m really enjoying it even though it’s so emotional.


You made some interesting remarks about how the character of Emma is not defined by falling in love with a man, and it made me think how so many female roles are often just that.

I’m now in a position that I’m getting a lot of attention and for me that comes with responsibility to help my sisters up off the floor. I do that by drawing attention to the fact that we’re under represented as women. And the diversity issue – being gay, trans, black, everyone – is under represented, except the white middle class man. This play is indicative of the kind of thing we need. We need to start reflecting society. Even though women are 51% of the population, only a third of speaking roles in films are by women.

How did you research the role?

We hung out with a lot of people from treatment centres. I went to meetings and spoke to a lot of people in recovery, and I know a lot of people who are affected by these issues. I’m not short of people to ask for help about being truthful about it. I’d never been to a treatment centre, so I don’t know what that experience is like. We went to a centre in Catford and the head of the Priory helped us a lot. But the rest of it is in Duncan’s script. We had psychologists and people from AA come in and talk to us. We researched it exhaustively. We want to be representing people truthfully because they’re heroes. Anyone who is sober and clean in our society, choosing to live that way is amazing.

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Do you know anybody going through that at the moment?

Loads of people. They’re everywhere. The play for me is about coping, how do we cope with life? I can relate to the desire to want to switch off. Everybody can. Everyone has got something that they use to take the edge off, it’s just for some it gets out of hand. I’ve had letters and cards and emails from all sorts of people. I had one young boy of about 20 who said he went to his first AA meeting after the show and hasn’t had a drink since.

What did the role teach you about yourself?

That everyone is just trying to do the best they can in a world that is designed to make us just want to switch off. It taught me a lot about kindness and being kind to myself, and having compassion because everybody’s got their ‘stuff’ and you don’t know what somebody’s stuff is. It’s taught me that I have to be kind to myself and other people.

So, this play not only about finding love in someone else, but also finding love in yourself?

Yes, exactly, it’s about the human experience told through the eyes of a woman. And there’s no reason why a woman cannot be used to portray the human experience.

People, Places & Things is at the Wyndham Theatre, London until 18th June 2016.

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