Dust is a profoundly powerful and truly remarkable piece of theatre written and performed by Milly Thomas that explores suicide. Delving into a young girl named Alice’s mental health problems, this intimate and raw production displays the ongoing of her damaged mind through a shocking yet authentic piece of theatre.
I spoke to Milly Thomas writer and actor in the show currently on at the Trafalgar Studios in London and director Sara Joyce about the production. “I had the idea quite a few years ago now but had been too frightened by the enormity of it to do anything about it,” Milly explained. “I’d been struggling with my own mental health for a while and the idea felt a little too raw. It was only years later when I went up to Edinburgh Fringe in 2016 and saw all the rows and rows of posters that I got annoyed at myself that my show wasn’t up there. So I scribbled everything down that was floating about inside my brain and sent it to Sara Joyce.”
The show itself feels incredibly honest, as it balances witty and blunt sarcasm with really poignant pain. Asking Milly how personal the show was when she wrote it, she said: “Personal enough that I put off writing if for a good few years but not autobiographical. All writing is personal to a degree, but I’d like to give my imagination more credit than transposing events and people.”
First approaching the show, she wrote the script and started churning out drafts. “It became harder and harder to say what I wanted to say and also the drafts themselves were like getting blood out of a stone, but Sara kept focusing me back to what it was I wanted to say and eventually we ended up with a draft that we felt served the idea that we could take into previews,” she said.
Sara really believed passionately in putting on a show that was a real depiction of mental health. “It’s important to represent real people and real situations in theatre in an honest way so that when people see characters, they see a true reflection of a state of being rather than a fluffy version,” Sara explained. “This is particularly pertinent when it comes to stories that involve mental health because for so long there has been stigma around it.”
“People often speak about theatre as escapism, but I think I see it more as connect-ism. The more we can present work that has an integrity to sear through the unexplored and not understood, then the more likely the work is to be affecting and not just effective.”
Sara explained: “Many conversations around mental health seek to find solutions but theatre can look to connect with the feelings of people who may be experiencing specific difficulties as well as people who might not understand that at all.”
Describing the production as a one woman show that ‘embraces the magic of theatre and the power of imagination’, Sara said they wanted it to be quite minimalistic and suggestive rather than literal. “It’s a dark comedy which really trusts the performer (Milly) to create the world and characters through seeing and physicality,” she said. “The audience are very much implicated in the journey of the protagonist, Alice.”
Delighted that the show is appearing in the heart of London at Trafalgar Studios, Sara said how exciting it is that as many people can see it as possible. “It always felt a very underdog kind of show, like something people didn’t want to see because of the content. So for Dust to be elevated to such a brilliant stage feels very special and confirms an interest in stories like these.”
When asking Milly what she wants the audience to take away from her performance, she said: “That suicide can’t be the answer. That not talking is killing us, but we also have to listen and do. That mental health is a spectrum and we are all on it and it’s about recognising where we are and how we can help those around us if we’re able. That the conversation can’t grind to a halt in acknowledging the problem.”
On at Trafalgar Studios in London until October 13th, tickets and information can be found online here.