Review: Dust

Yesterday, I braved the “Beast from the East” to watch Milly Thomas’ Dust – a play about mental illness and suicide. When informing people about the content of this play, I was met with questioning frowns: “Why would you want to spend your evening watching that?”

Why would anyone want to see an hour long monologue about a young woman who kills herself?

Dust answers that question.

We are immediately placed into a very small and intimate space on the top floor of the Soho theatre, with only four mirrors and a steel autopsy table. Thomas, the writer and performer of this piece draws us into Alice’s life – or death, as it turns out. Alice has killed herself and is overseeing the events that follow. For the next hour and ten minutes, the audience are nestled inside the warped mind of Alice as she unlocks the thoughts and desires she left unsaid during her life.

British Theatre .com
Milly Thomas on the set of Dust. Image Sourced from

Thomas effortlessly introduces Alice’s family and friends as her dead self visits them. We see the vulnerability around family life, and the cracks that appear after something this traumatic occurs. Thomas showcases her incredible talent to shift her body language and voice to depict a conflict between her mother and rich aunt. Contrastingly, we see the deep sorrow and inability to express grief within her father and brother – her brother turning to drugs for comfort instead. What this play so craftily portrays through the fallibility of its characters, is that many of us are ill-equipped to manage mental illness or its aftermath.

We see the depiction of female sexuality, as Alice appears to resent the sex she has with her boyfriend – she describes it as uncomfortable and thinks about ways to kill herself while she endures his pounding, squirming when he touches the scars on her arms. Yet, we see a different side to her as she watches in awe at her best friend having sex when she revisits the flat she used to live in.

The tone shifts are dealt with seamlessly – one minute we’re laughing at the horsey replacement housemate, the next we feel the deceit Alice feels at not being told that her best friend is pregnant. Throughout, Alice is reminded that she can no longer have an influence over her life and others – she cannot fix this. This message prevails throughout the piece as Alice wishes to fix the situations that go on around her, but is left feeling helpless.

The ending is perhaps the most shocking as we are forced to watch her death – lights flash and her body convulses on the table as paramedics attempt to revive her. The play closes with the same statement it opens with: “I think this is the end”.

Dust leaves you squirming, unable to watch, unable to listen – but its function acts as the first step towards opening up the conversation around mental illness and suicide. It smashes through the taboo by talking openly, honestly and with a sharp wit. Thomas is a genius and should be commended for her bravery in presenting this raw depiction of such a challenging subject.

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How the hell do I find time to be creative?!

Today, I was going to write a review on Junkyard, a play I watched about a week ago at the Bristol Old Vic written by the one and only Jack Thorne (writer of Cursed Child). Junkyard follows the journey of a group of “at risk” kids who lived in Lockleaze back in the 70’s and created an epic playground out of junk.

The reason why I’m not writing this review is because time is precious and the main thing I want to say about it is that it’s quintessentially Bristolian, the songs are excellent and the delivery, lively. However, it could do with less spoon-feeding in regards to the underlying issues of each child; they are already wonderfully built up characters, no need to make the audience feel stupid.

See, I pretty much summed up my feelings about that in a short paragraph. Here’s what I really want to talk about: Time.

As a creative person, I start to feel restless if I haven’t been doing the thing I love for a while. Currently, it’s playwriting. I feel like I’m constantly grappling around trying to find the time to write my play, which I’ve previously mentioned in another blog post. The thing is, working full time not only takes up most of your time, but it can zap every last creative cell from your body.

What do you want to do as soon as you get home from a long day at work? Nine times out of ten it’s going to be “watching telly”, or “playing video games” or “whacking something in the oven and going to bed” – you don’t really want to look at a blank screen praying for inspiration (especially if you’ve already spent the whole day in an office looking at a screen).

But what about the weekends? Well, we cherish those, right? And most of the time our weekends are booked up from the beginning of the month; whether that’s seeing friends, visiting family or having some much deserved ‘me’ time, it’s difficult to fit in being creative.

Or is it?

Recently, I’ve found the act of being creative, even when I don’t feel like it, very fulfilling. Today for example, I finished off a scene and discovered I have about 50 minutes of my play written (YAY!). Now, I know this probably isn’t too impressive to those out there who are seasoned playwrights – I’ve been working on this play for months and months and months – but for me, as a 9-5:30er, this is a massive achievement.

If I find a day or an evening free in my schedule I try not to waste it; however tempting it is to just lie on my bed eating Pringles and watching Fresh Prince, I know that won’t satisfy me in the long run. Finishing a scene I feel proud of? Well, that’s priceless.

Now, I know I’m no creative Guru by any stretch, but here are some tips of my own mixed with ones I found online to help anyone who wants to unleash their creative unicorns:

  1. Get together one evening a week with like-minded friends – Every Tuesday evening I meet up with a group of my creative buddies at Boston Tea Party and we write, discuss ideas and just generally enjoy each others company. It’s so important to set aside some time a week to do what you love, and doing it with other people can really help keep you motivated, (and you can get some honest feedback on your work too!).

  2. Set yourself mini deadlines – Without uni forcing deadlines upon you, it’s difficult to keep yourself motivated to get a project done in a respectable amount of time. Now, I really need to practice what I preach here (I’ve spent far too long on the play I’m currently writing) However, I’ve now told myself to have some sort of first draft finished by 5th April. Eek! Pray for me.

  3. Carry a notebook around with you – It’s surprising what can come to mind when you’re wandering around town in your lunch break, or when your boss is giving you jip.

  4. Keep reading/going to the theatre/watching documentaries, etc – This is so important. It can be easy to get caught up in your own little creative bubble, that you end up getting lost and losing inspiration. Keep the fire alive; find a play or novel that tackles similar issues to yours, visit the theatre to get some ideas on stage direction, language and set, or watch a documentary for research and get a real-life angle on what you’re writing about.

Finding time to be creative is a challenge as a full-timer, I’m not saying it’s easy. However, taking tiny steps can really help you towards your goal – you can do it!

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Top 15 Tips to Write a Kick-Ass Play

As I mentioned in my blog a little while ago, I am currently writing a play. I’m trying my best to set aside some time every Tuesday evening to meet up with a group of other writer friends to write and share ideas. It’s a really great way to stay motivated and also hang out with like-minded creatives 🙂

This week I asked the group for playwriting tips to share on this blog. Personally, something I found quite useful this week was to write a stream of consciousness; I ended up writing a bit of a back story for one of my characters. It’s definitely worth giving it a go.

Anyway, thanks to Amy Bethan Evans, Ross Willis, Grace Mitchell and Troy Baker for your advice. Here are their top tips:

  1. Someone will at some point have had the same idea as you. That doesn’t mean they’ve written the same play. 
  2. As the writer, if you think a line is funny, it probably isn’t. The funniest lines are usually written because they’re true. 
  3. Listen to your characters, let them tell you how they feel. 
  4. Don’t get it right, get it written – (one of my favourite quotes ever from Ross) 
  5. Always ask yourself what your unique perspective on the subject matter is. 
  6. Are you your characters truly reflecting the world we live in terms of diversity? This also includes sexuality, people with disabilities, class, etc. 
  7. Write what you’re embarrassed about. Write what you’re scared about. Write what you’re angry about. Write what you care about and will still care about three years later because plays / films take a LONG time to get made. 
  8. There’s rarely such thing as a ‘big break’ in writing , every meeting you take, every script you finish will move your career on. 
  9. Always ask: “Have I picked the most interesting way to tell this story?” 
  10. Goal and Complication = Conflict. Whether that be external conflict, internal conflict or interactional conflict, one or more of these drives all stories. 
  11. The first draft of the first thing you write probably won’t be that good. No-one is a genius. The only thing you can do is keep writing, keep drafting and listen to people you trust IN WRITING. These will be different from the people you trust with your darkest secrets. Have courage. Send things to people. Ask people. Annoy people. Apply to things you don’t think you’ve got a hope in hell of getting. Make a nuisance of yourself, but be kind. Be receptive. Appreciate opportunities people give you. Don’t be afraid to say no if it doesn’t feel right. Don’t disown the writer you used to be. 
  12. READ PLAYS/ MUSICALS – Study the ones you love and work out their mechanics. Focus on their form and why they’ve chosen that technique to tell that story. Always pay attention to how they have presented time and space.
  13. ALWAYS be able to answer these.
    This is a story of…
    The story begins when…
    The story ends when…
    The protagonist is…
    At the beginning of the story they want…
    At the end of the story they have achieved/failed/realised…
    They have changed because…
  14. There is no such thing as “in the moment” – if you want to write, write! Even if you don’t feel like it. It’s hard, but you’ll thank yourself later instead of sitting around waiting for “inspiration”. 
  15. And most importantly HAVE PATIENCE. Don’t expect anything to be instant. Just when you think you’re ready for something big, there’s always a bit more work to do just around the corner. Do it. 

I don’t know about you, but this list makes me feel so inspired. Thanks again to my lovely contributors, you keep my hopes up and my keyboard tapping.

For more inspiration and theatrical musings, please follow my Twitter! @tesshenderson94

I’m writing a full length play. (And may need your help!)

So as you’re already aware, I enjoy writing – it’s one of the main reasons I write this blog.

However, I’ve never really mentioned my love for Playwrighting. It was something that developed while I was at university.  The thing is, I have always enjoyed creative writing and developing characters, but I was always too daunted to write a full-length play. Hence why I began writing 10-20 minute plays which were performed by people at uni or at new writing showcases. 

I’ve written comedic plays; one about a cat detective (oops, spoiler) and another about pigeons in WW2. My first play was quite political; I set it in the future where the government had reverted back to the Victorian workhouse system. My dissertation play also had a political edge; I took themes from The Taming of the Shrew and created a contemporary piece about women in the workplace. Most recently, I’ve written perhaps my longest play so far (40 minutes) about my interpretation of the afterlife.

Yet, I’ve never pushed myself to write a full-length play. 

After watching The BAFTAs the other night, it struck me that for such a tiny island, we have produced the best dramas in the world (and the best reality TV shows- where would we be without the GBBO?). We have such a range of actors, writers and directors constantly creating breath-taking pieces of work. Who’s to say you or I aren’t capable of doing the same? Who’s to say that that my writing can’t go anywhere?

Which is why I have made the decision to write my first full-length play. Not only that, but I’ve decided to write about and for my generation. 

Generation Y.

Each scene is going to peer into the lives of two people facing the struggles of growing up in today’s society. So far, I have written a scene about a woman coming to terms with her body image and how she works that into her relationship with her girlfriend. Another is a scene between a mother and daughter; the mother silently pressuring her daughter with her high expectations. Right now, I’m working on a scene between two 16 year old boys brought up within the Catholic Church and how that can conflict with their lifestyles and desires.

So. Here’s where I need your help (people of Gen Y!). When have you felt pressured by the society we live in? If you could change something about the world right now for future generations, what would it be?

Leave a comment or Tweet me @tesshenderson with the hashtag #GenY

Thank you!