Milly Thomas in Dust - photo courtesy Richard Southgate
'I've been dead for three days.'
A woman. A suicide. A choice. A lie. A truth. An ending. Of sorts.
Life, Alice thinks, isn't worth living.
So she kills herself.
But she's stuck.
A fly on the wall.
Forced to watch the aftermath of her suicide and its ripple effect on her family and friends, Alice quickly learns that death changes people.
And discovers that death isn't the change she hoped for.
Following award-winning, sell-out runs at Edinburgh Fringe 2017 and Soho Theatre, Dust by Milly Thomas (Clique, BBC3; Clickbait and A First World Problem, Theatre503), directed by Sara Joyce (The Scar Test, Soho Theatre; Act Without Words I, Rough For Theatre II, Old Red Lion Theatre; Director with Old Vic 12), now transfers to the West End's Trafalgar Studios.
It's tragically shocking to be reminded how many of our fellow citizens find life so intolerable that their only resolution is to take their own life.
In 2017, there were 5,821 suicides registered in the UK, that's a rate of 10.1 deaths per 100,000 population as defined by the Office for National Statistics.
More men commit suicide than women - the male suicide rate in the same year being 15.5 deaths per 100,000 and 4.9 for women.
Those rather blunt and bare facts do little to explain the underlying causes or potential means of prevention.
So, if we're to understand the motives that drive people to commit suicide, and the part we might be able to play in preventing their actions, most of us need more information and education.
Drama provides one way in to understand the enormity and complexity of this poignant issue.
In this one-woman play, written and performed by Milly Thomas, we meet Alice after she has committed suicide, and we follow her as she witnesses the reactions of her family to her demise as she wanders from the morgue to her family home and other locations.
The play is specific to one woman's experiences, rather than attempting sweeping generalisations about suicide.
It is one person's attempt to articulate the overpowering and isolating effects of depression - and that articulation is made extraordinarily difficult because, as the playwright tells us in her programme comments, one cannot find the words to explain what seems to be inexplicable and without reason.
In that sense, I suppose, Dust is impressionistic as well as personal - don't look for specific reasons for everything that happens in this monologue because rational explanation is not particularly applicable to explaining just what depression is or a sufferer's experiences of it.
As Milly Thomas says, depression "shuts you off from everything and everyone and it just absolutely destroys your ability to make connections".
But Dust also seeks to examine other people's reactions as Ms Thomas gives us other characters - her brother, aunt and flatmate, for example - during the piece.
Milly Thomas and director Sara Joyce sensibly realise the considerable importance that humour can play here.
It runs in a rich vein throughout the play - with moments and comments that are frank and blunt, often leaving little for the imagination to fill in.
It's wry, dry humour that includes the odd comment that seems completely out of place in terms of the situation - like when one family member says "we should have been friends with her on Facebook".
And we find Alice describing her boyfriend's penis and planning her suicide while she's having sex with him.
It's powerful humour that gives rise to plenty of laugh-out-loud moments that not only provide touches of insightful reality, but also allow for changes in tempo during the exposition, reducing the potential for the piece to overwhelm in its emotional intensity.
The humour, though, is entirely appropriate emanating not from the act of suicide, but largely from Alice's remembrances of her life experiences.
With a superbly authentic and moving performance from Milly Thomas, and sensitively directed by Sara Joyce, Dust doesn't thrust answers into our hands but provides awareness of the complexities of depression that forces sufferers to choose suicide as their only way out.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Trafalgar Studios
Our show listing for Dust
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