Reviewed – 7th September 2018
“The writing is sensational; Thomas’ performance more so.”
Alice? Who the f**k is Alice? She’s the girl next door, of course. She’s the girl who’s doing fine. You know she is because she’s always telling you “I’m fine”. She’s also sassy. But she’s a bitch, a misanthrope. A bit too promiscuous. She’s funny. But sometimes sad. She’s taken her sadness and turned it into anger. She’s the girl you don’t quite understand. She’s the girl you don’t want to understand, the girl whose best friend has asked her to move out and go back home, the girl whose parents worry about but don’t ask too many questions. She’s Alice, the girl you’ve got to get used to not living next door to.
She’s the girl who is dead.
Alice is the protagonist of “Dust”, written and performed by Milly Thomas. On paper, the premise of a one-woman show about depression is a bit of a bleak prospect. Yet it is immediately clear why this show has made such a rapid journey from Edinburgh, to London’s Soho Theatre and now into the West End, picking up awards on the way. The writing is sensational; Thomas’ performance more so. Shockingly unrestrained, fearless and honest, this is theatre that makes you laugh out loud and fight back tears in the same breath.
Alice emerges at the start of the play from a mortuary slab. Having just killed herself she now has to witness the aftermath and the impact on her family and friends. From her vantage point she watches, and comments. Thomas’ gift for story telling is in the detail and we are presented with a very vivid picture of Alice in both life and death. This never feels like a one-woman show as Alice imitates the other characters, switching accents and personalities within a whisper, running the gamut of emotions, and then back to herself. The ghost. Watching. And still trying to make sense of it all.
It is mesmerising.
It is a tragedy and a comedy rolled into one, where descriptions of graphic sex lie alongside family photos, where Alice’s struggle to come to terms with her own suicide grapples with her need to read her friends’ Facebook posts about it. Tirades and curses share the same phrase with sharp one-liners and heart-wrenching pleas for understanding. But what is missing, and this is undoubtedly intentional, is that we are given no explanation. Alice never takes us back to search for an underlying cause for her depression. There is no childhood trauma, no abuse. In short, we get no back story whatsoever.
Which is precisely the point. Like death, depression has no prejudice. It can happen to anyone. Often there is no reason. Yet there is also no reason why those afflicted should end up like Alice. This is what Milly Thomas’ outstanding production is telling us, and I hope it encourages people to discuss the issues, even if we never fully understand the nature of depression. Thomas implores us to “talk to each other – not talking is killing us.” This is an absolute must see for anybody who is affected, directly or indirectly, by depression.
Correction: this is an absolute must see for anybody.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Richard Southgate
Trafalgar Studios until 13th October