It starts with the end; it ends realising that nothing is final, but simply a reminder of everything you’ve missed. Milly Thomas writes and performs Dust from the perspective of the deceased, someone who when alive was desperate to simply be free from the pain, the rage and the pressure. Now she’s dead, she remembers that she enjoys the attention, the pleasures of life that she’ll never get again. Food; sex; all of the little moments – they are short, but they make up what is a long existence. It’s harrowing, it’s hilarious and it’s an angle rarely explored.

From the first few lines, it is clear that Thomas has a knack for writing relatable, honest characters that aren’t afraid to be imperfect or ugly. Even when dead, she’s attention-seeking, cutting and defensive. This script takes no prisoners, exposing everything in its harsh glory. But it’s also funny – if you can’t laugh in the face of death, when can you? And fuck it, you only die once. She explores her own vagina; she fingers her best friend to orgasm; she spies on the conversations she was never previously privy to. It’s the freedom she always wanted. Now she has it however…

Thomas is an artist with her words, painting vivid pictures in all the shades of grey that fall across those left behind like a veil. She jumps into the characters and physically feels their grief manifesting itself in all the different ways – her auntie’s overly stylised sitcom character (think Samantha Bond or Julie Walters levels of hilarity); her ex-boyfriend crying while face-fucking his new girlfriend; her pregnant best friend who rented out her room to a chic European. But then she returns to herself and feels so indignant and hard done by. These people aren’t allowed to move on or keep going – Thomas swiftly brings the story right back to her in a set of beautifully selfish statements.

Because suicide is selfish, it doesn’t consider the holes left in everyone’s else’s life. But, as Thomas so aptly conveys, from her central perspective it’s a necessity to escape. Years of sadness that transform in a second to a blinding rage, giving her the conviction to finally follow through. Thomas flips on a knife-edge and suddenly spends her time weighing up her methods in a nonchalant, detached, psychopathic manner. The little details here are a mark of truly encapsulating writing. But never fear, for a comedy moment to break the tension inevitably follows a poignant, serious revelation. The discussion around mental health is more real when it exhibits the range of emotions.

If the beginning to Dust is factual and comedic, the ending is heart-breaking and exposing. Thomas watches her own funeral and recounts the final moments of her suicide with physical exhaustion, pouring her all into those seconds when the pills convulse her body and the blood drains from her wrists. The inevitability of suffering leaves Thomas a shell by the end, unable to barely get up, shake herself off from the role and acknowledge the rapturous applause. Applause that is thoroughly deserved for a play that is unafraid to be honest and ugly.

 

★★★★☆

Dust plays Underbelly Cowgate, Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 until 27 August 2017. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.

Follow the link to an interview with writer and performer, Milly Thomas.

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