Review: Dust at Soho Theatre

It’s said the beginning is a very good place to start – but Milly Thomas’ award-winning Dust does things a little differently, and starts at the end. Well, sort of.

After years of living with depression, Alice has just committed suicide – and wakes to find herself looking down at her own corpse on a morgue table. Initially, she’s fascinated by her new perspective and the freedom being dead gives her to go anywhere, see anything. But as she watches her loved ones grieve, and makes a few unwanted discoveries, it begins to dawn on her what she’s done – to them and to herself.

Photo credit: The Other Richard

It rather goes without saying that Dust is not an easy show to watch, but almost immediately it’s obvious that it is a vitally important one. Alice’s death was supposed to be an escape, but instead it becomes a perfect metaphor for the depression that drove her to kill herself: trapped in a world where she can’t talk to anyone, she’s forced to watch the people she loves go on with their lives, while she remains stuck.

Dust also makes the important point that depression doesn’t necessarily mean being miserable all the time. The show itself is surprisingly funny for a story about suicide, thanks largely to Alice’s own frank, unapologetic sense of humour, though much of the comedy comes with a sting in the tail. Alice’s posh aunt, for instance, who bursts into the house uninvited and takes over everything, is hilarious to watch, but also expresses some unforgivable – but sadly not as shocking as they should be – views about her niece’s life and death.

There’s also a great scene that takes us rapidly through a year in the life of Alice – a year in which she went to parties, gave her best friend makeup advice, had sex with her boyfriend – which serves as a powerful reminder that just because someone seems to be having a good time, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not privately suffering. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that this is probably one of the best and most enlightening portrayals of depression I’ve ever seen on stage.

Photo credit: The Other Richard

It’s not just the writing, either; Milly Thomas’ performance, directed by Sara Joyce, is equally outstanding. Her Alice is witty and loyal and attractive, so that even without knowing her, we’re sad she’s dead – but she’s also selfish and bitchy and foul-mouthed and real enough to ensure that her story never feels overly simplistic (despite a passing reference to it, this is not Ghost). Her bewilderment and anguish as she looks back on her decision is almost physically painful to watch. At the same time, Thomas brings each of the characters and settings around her to life so vividly that it’s easy to forget you’re watching a solo show, on a set populated only by a few mirrors and a morgue table. It’s an inspired and inspiring performance, which leaves you shaken and moved, but also entertained and educated about this huge and complex issue.

Dust‘s run at Soho Theatre is sold out – and for good reason – but if you can beg, borrow or steal* a ticket I’d absolutely recommend it. Don’t expect an easy hour; this is a show about suicide and depression, after all, and one that doesn’t hold back on the details, either. But it also makes an eloquent contribution to the conversation about mental health, and that alone makes it a must-see piece of theatre.

*Don’t really steal, obviously.

Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉

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