Saturday, 24 February 2018

REVIEW: Dust at the Soho Theatre

Milly Thomas’s punching new play transfers to the SOHO theatre following a hugely successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last summer.

She plays a woman called Alice. Well, actually, she plays a lot of people in Alice’s life as well. But predominantly Alice. A woman suffering with mental health issues who is driven to taking her own life. Which she does, but not really. As in yes, she’s committed suicide, but - without getting too caught up in spirituality - something is still living. And with this she is still able to see everyone in her life, in the aftermath of her death.

She begins with a candid sense of objectivity. She talks about her body, or rather to it - apologising for not being healthy, for not making her lovers wear condoms and this is an interesting thought in itself; how we actively neglect something we have total control of and which is built to support and protect us.

The initial effects on her family continue in this vein as Alice observes her parents, wrestling with the truth and descending into heated bursts of rage, as if it were a quotidian but nevertheless awkward occurrence. Her Auntie Isabelle, an altogether insufferable woman save for her generosity at Christmas, brings to mind a vulgar creation of Julia Davis, or possibly a little Patsy Stone. “Don’t tell mum and dad” she suggests because Alice’s death won’t make much difference to them anyway.

But as the play unravels, the lightness fades and the novelty of being “the fly on the wall” wears thin as the inevitability of life continuing becomes inescapable. A thought that probably resonates with most of us - what happens when we die? Well, life pretty much carries on as normal. It’s a strange thought. But we understand it, and we understand Alice as she cries “how dare she have life without me?” on discovering her best friend Elle is now pregnant. Life carries on, quite literally with new life.

During flashes of the time leading up to her suicide we see a newly emancipated
woman; somehow freed by the realisation that she is in control of her own life – the decision to either be alive or not. The tragic relief that many experience, when they realise they have the power to stop. 

Thompson is starkly funny in her numerous nonchalant references to morbid or painful experiences, among them, the crust that’s developed on her labia. Indeed, for the most part she has the audience in fits of laughter. Not only is she a competent writer, but she demonstrates great skill and versatility in her performance too. In a particularly dextrous sequence, she takes us through a year in Alice’s life, cutting from a snippet of one memory to another – rapidly and precisely. But she helps us understand and relate to Alice’s plight. Her final scenes are distressing, but ultimately the emphasis is on normalising discussion around mental health and suicide. Because “not talking, is killing us.”

Review by Chester Clark 

Rating: ★★★★
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