Reviews Published 11 September 2018

Review: Dust at Trafalgar Studios

Until 13 October 2018

Painful fluency: Josephine Balfour-Oatts reviews Milly Thomas’s play about the aftermath of suicide.

Josephine Balfour-Oatts
Dust at Trafalgar Studios. Photo: Richard Southgate

Dust at Trafalgar Studios. Photo: Richard Southgate

It feels as though the entire audience is holding its breath. Ahead, a steely surgical table is flanked by three mirrors and lit by a cold, antiseptic wash. The stage is clinical and bare, brightened only by the guttering blue. A strange sound can be heard. The musical footprints of something that cannot be seen, or darkness, as it takes shape through a singular note. This noise climbs octaves with adrenaline at its heels, before crashing into the inner ear. Then, all sense of place is snatched away. Sucked into a strange abyss – an otherworldly limbo with a population of one, Alice, who has just taken her own life.

Written and performed by Milly Thomas, Dust chronicles the aftermath of suicide. Cast into a voyeuristic plane, she is forced to watch family and friends as they grieve, and ultimately, as they move on without her. Still able to ghost silently through the life that she left behind, Alice cycles rapidly through multiple versions of herself, partly refracted by glass. Dressed in a nude leotard, she recounts outpatient appointments while shifting into the bodies of her mother and father – a device that creates an illicit kind of comedy. Here, humour feels like contraband, and yet it is impossible to resist.

Changes in lighting carve out new landscapes. The rattle of the London Underground provokes an attack of anxiety, curbed only for a moment by the prospect of posthumously consuming a Bakewell tart. Its tastelessness is the first hint that death – however permanent a solution – was not as effective as she had hoped it would be. To her dismay, boredom, hunger and sadness still wrap themselves around her. A problem that, despite her better judgment, technology will not be able to fix.

Thomas is hypnotic, and she speaks the language of depression with painful fluency. Crudeness bleeds into honesty as she confides in her audience, watching over the sexual misadventures of those who were close to her, as well as revisiting her own with shameless detail. Her journey is powerful and playful, managing to navigate the intricacies around familiar relationships with a depressive, while successfully communicating the perspective of the sufferer. So perfect and realistic is her performance, that every moment is to be savoured.

Tears sparkle at the corners of her eyes as the metallic taste of prescription medication hits her tongue. Combined with the sting of vodka, the drugs charge her synapses and enrich her blood. Finally, her breathing slows and panic builds, her chest hammering in cardiac arrest. This is the reality for many that suffer with their mental health, and through sharing this story, Thomas could very well keep any one of her spectators from that same fate. As audience members filter back into the world, they can be seen emptying their pockets into Samaritan charity buckets, while holding themselves together by seams that Dust has sewn beneath their skin. If you don’t know Thomas’ name already, then you will now. And once you know it, you certainly won’t forget it.

Dust is on until 13 October 2018 at the Trafalgar Studios. Click here for more details. 


Josephine Balfour-Oatts is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Review: Dust at Trafalgar Studios Show Info

Produced by Deus Ex Machina

Directed by Sarah Joyce

Written by Milly Thomas

Cast includes Milly Thomas



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