Soho Theatre, London – until 17 March 2018
Following a critically-acclaimed run at last year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Milly Thomas brings her one-woman show Dust (directed by Sara Joyce) to the upstairs space at Soho Theatre. Thomas’ earlier writing credits include A First World Problem, Clickbait and an episode of BBC Three drama Clique (alongside Jess Brittain); she also acts in the piece, previously seen in Cargo at the Arcola, amongst others.
Alice has committed suicide. Depression took its toll and, after years of self-harm, sadness and worried loved ones, she decides that ending her life is the only way to stop it all: “I took my own life to stop feeling bad.” However, the next thing she knows, she’s staring back at her cold, dead body in the mortuary – and no one can see or hear her.
After the novelty of the situation wears off (and she realises she can’t even use her beloved phone anymore), memories come flooding back about events leading up to her final decision; she also follows her family, boyfriend and best friend around, and witnesses the effect her death has had upon them.
Thomas has written this using her own experience of depression, which gives the play an added bit of insight; it feels authentic, with bags of personality. Dust is an unapologetically frank account of the mental health challenges that could face anyone, fuelled by Thomas’ desire to get people talking, rather than keep them feeling shamed into silence. Alice’s flaws are laid bare for all to see, but there are also reminders of her good qualities – the ones which gave her nearest and dearest hope until the end.
The performance space is thrust, and Anna Reid’s set design has the mortuary table backed by mirrors. Alice is completely surrounded – as trapped in the space as she is in the shadow of her life. Jack Weir’s lighting design and Max Perryment’s sound design both play a big part in the feel of the play, from the pulsing beginning to Alice’s struggle with the memories that are forced on her. As the volume and intensity rise, the experience becomes more and more visceral.
Milly Thomas herself is superb. For the most part she plays Alice, but there are also occasions where she takes on the roles of the people around Alice – such as during the eulogies at her funeral, and an entertainingly breathless portrayal of her rich, right-wing aunt. Each character is so utterly distinct in their voice, physicality & spirit that you’d almost think they were played by separate people. But it is as Alice, of course, that Thomas feels most natural. She shows glimmers of what made Alice likeable & attractive to the people around her, and you can’t help but be moved by her calls to her mum as she realises what she’s done. Despite the bleak subject matter it is also very funny at times, thanks to Thomas’ impeccable delivery and skill at addressing her audience. A powerful performance indeed.
My verdict? A truly brilliant piece of theatre that dares to tackle the turmoil of depression and suicide, resulting in a moving & darkly funny play – Milly Thomas is superb.