Theatre editor Daniel Perks catches up with director Sara Joyce ahead of Milly Thomas’ Dust transferring to Soho Theatre, after it stormed the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017:

It was one of the biggest successes at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017, winning writer and performer Milly Thomas a Stage Award for her one-woman portrayal of Alice – a girl who commits suicide and examines its aftereffects. Now Dust transfers to Soho Theatre for a three-week run – a real achievement for Milly, director Sara Joyce and producer Holly De Angelis:

“The whole team – Anna [Reid], Jack [Weir], Max [Perryment], Chloe [Nelkin], Hannah [Fisher]. There’s something about the alchemy of that company and what we are all working towards… I felt it in the tech in Edinburgh when we were all together.”

“The reaction from people – they just got it, they felt understood and a bit less lonely. You feel it in your bones if something is unfinished, it’s an unsettling feeling, so we’re so lucky that Soho [Theatre] wanted to see Dust further.”

Director Sara Joyce highlights a number of incredibly talented individuals that she and Milly brought together to embark on this remarkable journey, a feat of true collaborative creativity:

“Milly’s at the helm, it’s her idea and brainchild that got everyone excited. My job as a director is decision making, trying to create coherence and a world that feels united. That’s why I work with these people – when they read the script, they’re thinking through a lens of their medium that is so superior to anything I could come up with. You’re be an idiot not to follow that through.”

An age of immediacy

Despite its trajectory, Dust hasn’t immediately sky rocketed to its lofty heights – nothing ever does anymore. It has in fact been a show that Milly has been thinking about for over five years, something she mentioned in a previous, pre-Edinburgh interview for Miro Magazine. Sara comments on the culture of instant fame that we now mistakenly believe is within reach:

“We’re in an age of immediacy, a culture that allows us to think of overnight successes. But that’s just not true at all – the production history of anything that has really grabbed us has been in process for a long, long time.”

My conversation with Sara is one of humility and genuine disbelief. This is a woman who put together a truly spectacular creative team to do justice to Milly’s brutally honest and searing script, yet never seems to take that responsibility flippantly. I’ve seen a number of pieces that Sara has directed, a series of powerful productions that deal with poignant topics of the day. She has worked on The Scar Test with award-winning playwright Hannah Khalil and brought two shows to this year’s VAULT Festival 2018Elsa by Isobel Rogers and Split by Emma Pritchard and Tamar Broadbent:

“They’re fucking brilliant – all unbelievably, heart-stoppingly multi-talented and very individual people in their approaches to life, to stories and backgrounds. But they all have a thing that I’m really attracted to – integrity in their work, in their ways of being. They’re about their ideas, about what they’re saying and what they’re doing.”

There’s no formula

Sara speaks with passion about the need for integrity and truth in the industry, something that is apparently in short supply. I completely agree with everything she says – this is a woman who is unafraid to take on the might of the theatrical system and point out every single one of its many flaws. She herself is also in the position that many of her playwriting contemporaries face, someone who is looking to step onto the next rung of the ladder and finding that every space is full of people who aren’t always worthy of being there:

“There’s a real hypocrisy at the moment in what theatres are saying they want from writers – big ideas, big stories, upscale – but that’s not the work that they’re commissioning. People are forcing themselves to be smaller in order to get the work on.”

“There’s no formula. If we’re constantly seeing the same types of story and work, then you start to create for that – audiences aren’t interested. We underestimate that all the time, they want to see new stuff, different things.”

Stripping performers of creative control

Sara Joyce Dust

Sara Joyce

Sara hits the nail on the head here – we in the industry are so involved in this world that we often fail to see the wood for the trees. We assume that we know best because we live and breathe the work. But we are a minority of the audience demographic, and we are the servants to their needs as much as anything else. If all we do is make work that continues to feed our own egos, then we alienate both the theatregoing population and the diversity that is itself inherent in the creative voice:

“I’ve never quite understood the hierarchy that exists within the making of work, putting actors at the bottom of the pecking order. We’ve stripped performers of their autonomy of creation. There’s a reason that these people are writing work to be in – those roles aren’t there for them, they’re not getting the opportunities that they know they are capable of.”


“We’re missing a trick in the rehearsal room by shutting down these voices. The director and writer are at the helm as kings – it’s usually men – and everyone else is subservient. We’re losing the celebration of play.”

Not a lot of risk

Sara Joyce Dust

Sara Joyce as part of the Old Vic 12

But surely a change is afoot? Does it not feel as though we are on the cusp of a major shake-up in the industry? Or perhaps it’s just a blustery breeze that will blow over and leave the ground unchanged. God, I hope not:

“It’s not about getting rid of leadership or responsibility, but people need to be open to ideas and less led by ego. That’s the gift of people at the helms of these theatres – they have the capacity to be able to give life to things that need to be seen. It’s frustrating for a lot of people who don’t feel like they access to those platforms.”

“But it’s not about being tokenistic either – we artists can sniff out if we’re being used to fill quotas. I feel that risk is a big word, but there’s not a lot of risk happening and that’s where brilliant work comes from.”

“It takes a lot time to grow – what isn’t being spoken about is the lack of quality in that process of nurturing and support. If you look at the rise of the one-woman show, that’s come from a place of utter necessity. These people realise that nobody is helping them do this, so they’re doing it themselves.”

Making decisions

Sara Joyce Dust Milly Thomas

Milly Thomas’ Dust (image courtesy of The Other Richard)

Sara is forthright in her opinions – it’s easy to see why her work is so full of passion and purpose. Because she honestly cares, both about the industry and about those whom she makes work with. Being this decisive and open isn’t easy – ironically it isn’t often found in our industry, despite the profession being one that at its core is about communication and connection:

“Making decisions, that’s a scary thing as a director. The writer is trusting you to fulfil the remit and you can’t do it by sitting on the fence. Dust could have gone so many different ways – in one weekend we went over seven drafts! You should relentlessly keep at a story until it sits right in your bones.”

The amount of time, passion and heart that has blatantly gone into Dust is self-evident. Throughout this interview I have been astonished by the level of talent, excitement and genuine truth that emanates from Sara. It’s something that, as a journalist, I find myself searching for more and more – a reminder to myself that my love for this industry lies in the dedication of this next generation of individuals who are committed to making it a successful, beautiful space:

“Truth is the word. I have a dream of doing something en masse with all these wonderful people – Isobel, Milly, Emma, Tamar. Get all of them together and make something collaboratively.”

When that happens, I will most certainly be on the front row.



Dust plays at Soho Theatre until 17 March 2018. For more information, visit the website here.