Milly Thomas, Dust: closer to sensationalism than sensational

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In-yer-face yet still so distant: Elinor Rowlands reviews Dust by Milly Thomas currently playing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Dust by Milly Thomas

Dust by Milly Thomas. Photo Credit: The Other Richard

Dust centres on Alice who witnesses the aftermath of her own suicide. The play grew out of Thomas’ own experience of depression. It is challenging for the audience to connect with Alice – she is a character that likes to hide behind humour. It’s an uncompromisingly brutal ride through her depressive spiral.

The dark wit of the play is delivered extraordinarily well by Thomas (who also plays Alice) who never misses a beat. The humour is vivid, but has an uneasy presence as Alice pokes fun at all the people in her life. Her genuine vulnerability and authenticity never quite shine through. Alice bristles with hostility. She is determined to stay in control and never allows people to get too close; this translates over to include an audience held at arm’s length.

Alice’s sarcastic mocking of her family and friends is at the forefront of the monologue, so it comes as no surprise when they feel somewhat relieved that she has passed on due to her blatant selfishness towards them. How she mocks them is acerbically comic, and there are plenty of laughs. But it is a struggle for the audience to identify with her caricatured friends and family, who appear pathetic through Alice’s eyes.

The play is at times, predictable and offers no honest reflection about why Alice might have come to the feelings that led to her need to die by suicide.

She narrates a world that revolves entirely around her, and there are times when she could have fleshed out striking moments. This is particularly so when Alice’s best friend explains to her that she feels it is best to move out of their flat-share and move back home because she has noticed how unwell Alice is.

Opportunities to hook the audience in are missed – there’s a longing to see Alice allow herself to be vulnerable. The play rattles onto the next scene and the next at such a speed that it feels there is desperation to reach the end: a description, in graphic detail, of the moment her character dies by suicide.

Not enough time is spent on unpeeling the layers of why Alice’s relationships might have diminished and what affect this has on her. The audience remains locked out, only witnessing as much as Alice feels able to show us, and the relentless venom towards those close to her becomes repetitive. The narrative remains superficial.

The last plea for sympathy relies on creating a graphic-content, heavy end detailing how she chooses to end her life. This experience is disturbing, and made even the most experienced theatre audience members put their fingers in their ears.

Her attempts to shock fall short because they shut out the audience. Alice remains a stranger; another body down at the morgue. This in itself is deeply sad, because it is clear that Alice was so much more.

Dust is on at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival from 6th – 14th August and 16th – 27th August at the Underbelly on Cowgate (venue 61).