Following an award-winning sellout runs at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017 and at Soho Theatre earlier this year, Dust is making its triumphant return to the London stage. Dust looks at the mental health of Alice, who is already dead and tells her story as a ghost waking up in a morgue. Throughout the play, she looks back on her life, as well as seeing her loved ones mourn her after she has taken her own life. In advance of its run at Trafalgar Studios 2, I interviewed the author and actress Milly Thomas about why this piece is so special.
Dust has a different premise to a lot of mainstream plays – can you explain this to us?
Alice is dead having killed herself but finds herself stuck watching the consequences of her actions spiral out. I wanted to explore this trope of the disembodied narrator you see so often in television and also tackle the themes of mental health, depression and suicide ideation head on in a way that felt real to me in an unreal premise.
What made you write Dust?
I think I’d just wanted to write a play I hadn’t seen before. A lot of why I fell into writing in the first place came about from the fact that theatre can feel incredibly samey and I also wanted to examine a specific handling of high functioning depression and suicide ideation on stage. I feel it’s something that’s often portrayed irresponsibly in art and so I wanted to create something that spoke to me in the hope that other people might be feeling the same.
Was the subject matter particularly difficult to write, or did it just come to you?
Oh God, it was like pulling teeth! I’ve never had such troubles before with drafts as I had with Dust. A slow, difficult and painful birth. Sara Joyce our director/dramaturg kept bringing me back to what it was I wanted to say and was an extremely integral and impartial voice in amongst all the stuff jostling for precedence.
Dust has been performed at the Edinburgh Fringe and at the Soho theatre now. Have you made many alterations to the original script since these early days ahead of its Trafalgar Studios run?
A few! Edinburgh is a tricky beast because the slots tend to work in hours and we realised about a week before the fringe that we had an hour and a half show. Or rather I did, everyone else knew and had been gently trying to break it to me. We did some brutal cuts that still told the story and we were happy with, only to realise when we got to Soho that the time we’d lost we were now able to revisit if we so wanted. We tentatively had a look over and decided on stuff we really truly missed and then we able to slowly reincorporate before settling on a definitive final version. It’s such a luxury and one I’m grateful for.
You perform the role of Alice yourself – was this a creative decision from day one? What led to you taking on this character?
I’d always known I was going to play Alice, and I think that’s why I put off writing it for so long. The play is loosely based on my own experiences with depression and the tone is also incredibly specific. I felt, which I never feel for all my work, that I was the best person to drive this piece as I knew where it was going and that it had to toe the line between comedy and tragedy. That and my sense of humour is odd at best.
Which do you prefer: acting or writing?
I honestly couldn’t choose. I’d be heartbroken if I couldn’t do one of them. They both feel like flying. Or screaming. Something like that.
What is the main thing you want audience members to take away from Dust?
That suicide isn’t and can never be the answer. That there are resources, but we need to do better as a society to help others who are struggling. That I don’t have all the answers, but we need to de-stigmatise this stuff in order to make progress with making real change.
Dust by Milly Thomas runs from 4th September to 13th October at Trafalgar Studios 2.