Review: Dust (Trafalgar Studios)

Milly Thomas stars in her one-woman show about the aftermath of a suicide

Milly Thomas in Dust
Milly Thomas in Dust
© The Other Richard

A girl is alone on a mirrored stage. Dressed in a body stocking, she stares hard at the audience, holding every one of us in her gaze. "I think this is the end," she says, and turns to look at the two-tier, stainless steel table behind her. Suddenly we realise she is dead. Performer and writer Milly Thomas is asking us to look with her at the body of Alice, dead by her own hand.

What follows is 75-minutes of discovery; by the close we realise that Alice has vanished into a fog of depression, anorexia and self-harm. The girl she once was, the girl we see in front of us – bright, rude, resilient – has killed herself "to stop feeling bad." The fact that this ghostly presence still feels bad as she watches the suffering of her family is just one of the ironies of her early suicide.

There are many brave things about Dust, which grew out of Thomas' own experiences with depression and which dedicate its entire run – and collection buckets outside – to the Samaritans.

One is its brutal honesty in its picture of Alice, a girl who can live a full life through social media, but who is really lying in bed, unable to move. She wants to continue online, even after death. "I can't wait to lie down and scroll through all the grief." But this is also a girl, we learn, who can't bear her boyfriend to touch the arms where she has cut herself and worries about the thickness of her scar tissue when meticulously planning her suicide.

The other fantastic quality of the play is its bold, dirty-mouthed and coruscating humour. In Thomas' portrayal Alice is incredibly funny. She looks at her own corpse – "open coffin, bold choice" – and remarks "I look ready to suck a dick not be laid to rest"; her tactless aunt decides it is better not to tell her grandparents that she has died because the fact that Alice is dead "will not remotely alter Mum and Dad's experience of that girl."

Thomas embodies all these characters, conjuring them before us by changing her voice, channelling their grief, their anger, their despair. Best of all she embodies Alice, whose tragedy is that in a world where she seems to be in constant communication with everyone around her, she really has no one to talk to. She is lost in more ways than one. As a plea for more support and more understanding of those with mental health problems it is effective. As a drama, it is devastatingly sad.