Trafalgar Studios, London – until 13 October 2018
One of the laws of theatre is that the fringe shows that I really want to see but miss and the shows that get a second/bigger/West End run never, ever overlap. Ever. To the extent that I’ve begun to wonder whether my good opinion jinxes them in some way.
Thankfully, and for once, I have an exception to this rule. Dust, written and performed by the insanely talented Milly Thomas, is a show I remember hearing about at the Edinburgh Fringe a couple of years ago (I have yet to do a Fringe so didn’t see it). It then transferred to the Soho Theatre, where I missed it for various (presumably work related) reasons which now escape me. So when it reappeared once again at the Trafalgar Studios I finally got my shit together and mooched along. And, at the risk of slipping into horribly hackneyed writing, I am exceptionally glad I did.
Dust is not an easy play; in fact, it is more of a trigger warning made flesh. Based on Thomas’ experiences of depression, it tells the story of Alice, who’s recently taken her own life and whose post-body form – call it what you will — now gets to watch the impact her death has on those around her. She also lets us in on some of the formative moments that led her to that decision. Cheery stuff!
And yet it actually is quite funny. Pitch blackly funny, uncomfortably funny, but also occasionally just funny. There’s an honesty and a complete lack of artifice to Thomas’’ writing that she deploys equally effectively to the funny and the definitely not funny parts of the play. On the lighter side, she dismantles modern life, families, dating and sex beautifully.
Equally, the rawness of the writing gives the more emotional scenes real weight – whether that takes the form of the tenderness of a desperate parent or the rage and desperation of someone considering the vodka and pills in front of them.
As that last sentence implies, there are multiple characters in Dust, all played by Thomas. Structurally this is a really insightful thing to do as it gives the audience a further way in to Alice’s world. Even though all the other characters are seen through her eyes, their actions, reactions and relationships give us another angle to understand her situation. From my experience of depression, it is a super lonely disease and having these other characters on stage helps to emphasise that as well as make the play and the character of Alice more accessible. If you’ve ever had a friend or family member struggle with depression, they are also very easy to identify with.
Thomas brings them all alive with such energy and verve as well. She’s a cracking actress and her performance (performances?) is superb. There’s a fantastic physicality about her, I love the way she can change character completely with just a change of posture and vocal inflection, and a real sense of openness too. Just like her writing, there’s nothing artificial or cultivated in her acting. It’s real and raw and powerful.
She is backed up by a fantastic creative team. I love the space of the Trafalgar Studios 2 – so tiny and atmospheric and adaptable – and this production uses it brilliantly. Wonderfully directed with huge belief by Sara Joyce, beautifully, simply designed by Anna Reid and with some of the most effective lighting I’ve seen in a studio space (or anywhere else for that matter) from Jack Weir, it’s a thing of immense class and confidence. Hugely effective and hugely affecting.
Dust was very much worth the wait for me. It’s a supremely powerful piece, undoubtedly not an easy watch but a necessary one nonetheless. Here’s hoping it inspires more open and honest conversations around mental health, and suicide in particular. It very much should do.
Dust is at the Trafalgar Studios 2 until 13th October.
I sat in C14 and my seat was kindly provided by the production. It would normally cost £28.