Dust is the story of Alice, who takes her own life and dies – sort of. Her presence lives on, hovering around her family and friends, and we are invited to watch their lives playing out in the days just after Alice's death. So this is a play about suicide – but more about mental health, and the struggles of being a young person in our current times.
Milly Thomas does a great job portraying both Alice and everyone around her. She switches effortlessly between characters, and her quick, split-second switches are disturbing to watch (which is entirely the intended effect). Alice is remorseless, largely unmoved by how broken she leaves her parents and her brother; but she's angry at her flatmate and her boyfriend, both of whom seem to have moved on. The ending works well, even though it's clear at the outset how Alice's story will finish, and the acting is tense and sharp, well pulled off.
Alice’s depression puts her in the category of an unreliable narrator. It's evident to the audience that the characters we meet are viewed through her eyes: the mother cloying at times, the father too gruff, the brother erratic. The technique lends the show an interesting extra dimension, because you can never be sure if you ought to believe her or if she is presenting things a certain way to make her point.
Sadly though, the script relies too much on uncomfortable, squeamish moments. There are many vivid descriptions of sex in various forms, and some of the dialogue feels stretched as well – adding nothing to the storyline, existing only to make us ill at ease. The technique soon loses its shock value, and by alienating part of the audience, it wastes the opportunity to speak to them about a different taboo topic: depression and suicide.
It's a shame, because Thomas is a fine actress, and this could have been a compelling play focussed on the aftermath of suicide. If you look past the explicit content though, the show does do a good job of talking loudly about a subject we tend to avoid. It will definitely add to the wider ongoing narrative about mental health that seems to be developing this Fringe.