Jasper Cunningham reviews Dust at the Underbelly, Edinburgh
Dust is a long way from the stand-up comedy the Fringe is known for. It is a harrowing tale told in hindsight by the protagonist, Alice, after her death. It is another example of a one-woman show done right.
At first, death doesn’t seem too bad as Alice inspects her body on top of an autopsy table. It’s almost fun, light entertainment. Yet, through various memories we slowly learn more about her life before death. With a history of mental illness, she gradually shuts down and those around her find it difficult to cope as she becomes suicidal. Milly Thomas switches between characters seamlessly. Alice’s dry, dark humour on her death and absence of body has the audience chuckling, only for them to freeze as Thomas’ chillingly realistic depiction of grieving parents take her place.
Backed up by an impressive, minimalistic set design, the production flourishes. With lighting and music signalling flashbacks and shifts in time the storyline is easy to follow and very gripping. Somehow the story of Alice’s life keeps you on the edge of your seat despite knowing its inevitable ending.
The show should be credited with not only tackling dark issues that are hard to talk about but also giving an insight into how mental illness breaks up, disrupts and even destroys lives. It is fascinating to watch Alice explore the world in the aftermath of her death, seeing how it has affected those around her in ways she had not imagined. As she reflects: ‘Death is not an ending, it is nothing.’
Although there are moments in the show, be it a joke or a comment about sex, that are entertaining, ultimately this is a powerful performance. Mental illness and suicide are hard issues are to write about but here they are taken on with a rash elegance and brutal realism that shines through in the production. The Samaritan leaflets handed out at the door are a hearkening reminder about just how prevalent these issues are.