Edinburgh Fringe 2017
A caustic and comedic treatment of one woman’s depression, suicide and everything that happens afterwards. Alice thinks that life isn’t worth living. So she kills herself but then finds she is stuck, a fly on the wall watching the impact of her death. And discovers that death is not the change she hoped for. An unflinching examination of a suicide in a new solo play.
‘I’ve been dead for three days.’ Alice thought life wasn’t worth living. So she killed herself. Only to find she’s stuck, looking at her own body, watching the aftermath of her suicide and the effects on her family and friends. Alice learns that death changes people, and the changes she sees aren’t always the ones she wanted or expected. She goes wandering around her world certain that her death will have made everyone see how wrong they were about her. Instead she finds that her parents care deeply about her, even her brother whom she has seen as little more than a pimple on life’s adolescence is gutted. Her boyfriend is being consoled by another and her best friend is pregnant – something she hadn’t known. Ultimately she starts to question whether death was what she really wanted. Only it’s too late now.
Written and performed by Milly Thomas, Dust is a raw, unflinching but often very funny exploration of one young woman’s depression, suicide and the impact on her family, friends, herself. The pace of both the writing and the delivery is blistering. Thomas is particularly adept at the lightening shift out of the story to deliver an aside to the audience or to move into another character.
The set is clinical, a metal mortuary table and three mirrors. However, as the story progresses we have no difficulty in seeing the kitchen of the family home, her former flat, her bedroom through Alice’s eyes.
The content is very explicit and abounds with expletives. Fuck becomes almost a punctuation mark. But it suits the brittle damaged young women Thomas has created. One who is working hard, even after death, to show us that she is in control, there is nothing wrong, that she is on top of things as she delivers another caustic aside. Except as she progresses through the story it seems that perhaps she isn’t quite as in control as she thought and there isn’t any way back.
There is a childlike quality to many of her observations, especially when she finds that those left behind aren’t behaving or reacting as she expected. It reminded me of the child who threatens to run away because ‘you’ll be sorry when I’m gone’. Alice’s friends and family are sorry, desperately so, but they are also finding their own ways to survive and move forward.
The pace of the writing is phenomenal, it cracks along at a speed achieved by very few writers – Dark vanilla jungle by Philip Ridley comes to mind. But there is something essentially different about Milly Thomas’ writing, perhaps because it is by a woman for a woman to perform. Men writing for women rarely get the pace right, the way that women will go off at a tangent and return a moment later and expect you to keep up.
As Alice tours her home, family and friends she takes us back to her teenage years and starts to reveal the shifts and turns that led her towards suicide. The research and almost clinical thinking about how best to do it. But, when it comes to it she finds it hard – the tablets make her feel sick, she can’t take more than one at a time (washed down with vodka) because otherwise she will vomit. When it’s too late she finds she doesn’t want to go.
If I have a concern about the piece it might be that it is so well written and performed with such biting wit that someone vulnerable might just think that the afterlife could be like that. And whilst we don’t know what it will or won’t be like, I’m pretty certain that it won’t be that entertaining. However, at the end Thomas thanks us for coming and says that there is information about the Samaritans available as we leave. With the addition of discussion and support around the issues I think this would make a real contribution to suicide prevention at college and undergraduate level.
Overall, Dust is stunning piece – you cannot be anything other than engaged throughout; it’s challenging, the pace phenomenal and Thomas’s control of the material extraordinary. It deserves the accolade ‘tour de force’