Any script that deals with depression and suicide will be necessarily challenging, and Milly Thomas’ Dust is no different, investigating the events leading up to, and the aftermath of the suicide of a young woman, first-hand. Alice, the play’s posthumous protagonist, teases out the threads of her own demise with a grotesque curiosity; in a fashion which is as endearing and compelling as it is stomach-turning.
As performer, Thomas bounces between situations and characters with a frenetic sense of urgency, resisting the tug of reality as the gravity of Alice’s actions settles in. Her energetic performance warms the otherwise clinical autopsy room set, and shimmering lighting and sound design maintain a slick sense of flow and pace. In this, Dust is an accomplished solo performance, tackling desperately relevant issues with gusto. The play is unapologetic in its visceral take on depression, and it is clear that this will never be a story with a happy ending. An intimate scene between Alice and her boyfriend is especially potent, addressing physical scars with an acute sense of irony.
However, uncertainty in the mythos behind Alice’s outer-body experience strips the character of purpose beyond re-living her death only to seemingly regret it. Though we may understand the urgency of stories exploring mental health issues and their consequences, the action begins to feel especially cruel as Alice’s tale ricochets towards the inevitable. A prolonged death sequence pushes the visceral honesty of the piece into a gratuitous grey area. The scene feels extraneous and tonally off-piste, and I question the decision to make us watch this woman suffer even more.
Nonetheless, Dust is a play which feels remarkably fresh and stands out particularly amongst the multitude of work tackling mental health issues at this year’s festival, for its original, if flawed, perspective. Although those with a sensitive disposition may find some aforementioned scenes especially difficult to watch, those who do see the play will witness a performance that lingers with you long after lights out. 3/5