It should be a bit grubby really, a play about dust. Yet this production has an inherent beauty and magic that belies the chaotic, quirky set at its centre, and the fluffy layers of history that rest upon it. Dust deals with a number of difficult emotions, but with such a light touch it’s suitable for children of any age, including the adult kind. It talks about time; the past and the present; what we take with us; the traces we leave behind. It offers positive ways of thinking about our place in the world and how we choose to engage with it.
Titch (Faye Weerasinghe) is being put in another home. She feels forgotten about, small and unimportant, as she arrives at the ramshackle, bubblegum-pink mansion. Admittedly, the place is a tip and not too appealing. However, from the very beginning there is laughter and joy there, as Nelly (Katherine Vernez-Gray) dances amusingly to her ancient gramophone, living for the moment. Surely that feeling is more important than a bit of dirt?
The relationship between the two characters is beautifully played out in fine performances by both actors. Weerasinghe and Coker balance their roles as adult and child perfectly, blurring the boundaries somewhat, so those labels barely matter, showing how you can be who you choose to be no matter what your age. Examining ideas of family, adulthood, belonging and self-worth, the tension of Titch’s accumulated problems is diffused with gentle humour and a wonderful lesson that acceptance can soothe distress, causing it to ease and settle, like dust. As Nelly points out, “to find the light you must have darkness too”.
Hugo White’s delightful soundtrack is often warm and encouraging, and includes some insightful lyrics that offer real clarity. Driving the production along through changing scenes and emotions, it weaves harmoniously with an enchantingly lyrical narrative from writer Laura Dockrill.
Peter Norton’s dynamic set is splendidly quirky, created from bits and pieces that are all memories to somebody. It cleverly uses its fixed structure to create bigger areas, spinning round to reveal new rooms, new spaces and places for Titch and Nelly to explore and learn about each other, and provide surfaces for the dust of new memories to settle.
Titch as a puppet miniature is adorable, and also an effective dramatic device: she’s playing the big girl on the outside but, in the security of her own room, she’s a vulnerable little thing. Her puppet self also allows Titch to climb down the side of the entire house! Additionally, the dust monster and tiny family puppets help manage ideas of fear, and complement the excellent balance of fantasy and stark reality that makes this storytelling so effective.
Titch learns that there can be value in overlooked things, and that you can make a positive by facing things that make you uncomfortable. Dust, for example, is dismissed, but it is made up of human history and marks our being. Your history may be unattractive, but why clean it up? Instead, find a way to live with your dust monster and move forward on your own terms: give it a cuddle! This is a big message, presented in such an entertaining and sensitive way that it seems entirely clear and possible in an utterly enjoyable production.
Written by: Laura Dockrill
Music Composed by: Hugo White
Directed by: Chris Elwell
Stage and puppet designer and puppetry direction by: Peter Morton
Produced by: Half Moon Theatre and Z-Arts Co-production
Dust is available to stream via Half Moon Theatre’s website below. Tickets can be purchased free of charge, but you can also make a recommended payment.