Tuesday, February 16, 2021

DUST (Half Moon Theatre/Z-arts)***


By Dave

Link: https://www.halfmoon.org.uk/events/dust-film

Available until: Available from 11am every day except Sundays from 16th February until 26th February. You have 14 days in which to watch it.

Sometimes when you watch a play that’s aimed at children, you totally get into your inner child and enjoy it on a child level. Pantomimes can be a lot of fun (actually even more so when your almost-teenaged kids are mortified that you’re watching one at such an advanced age). Quite a few of the Disney films have been turned into really great stage musicals. There have been a few lockdown shows aimed at kids which I’ve really enjoyed.

But every so often one comes along where you can’t help looking at it on an adult level. This isn’t a bad thing at all if you still get some enjoyment from it but in some cases you can’t help wondering if the kids are getting the full effect. Maybe this play has been very cleverly written to appeal to adults and children at the same time but the fact it’s billed as a kids’ play means that most adults won’t watch it.

Dust belongs to this second category. There’s lots of fun to appeal to kids – there’s comedy, there are some fun-scary bits and there’s a bit of music though I’m not sure how much rap appeals to four year olds. But the play also seems to be metaphorical.

It’s about a girl known as Titch (real name Colette) who goes to live with an older woman called Nelly. Things get off to a very awkward start when Titch realises she’s arrived a month early and the house isn’t ready for her arrival. It’s not even close to ready.

One danger with adults watching kids’ shows with an adult outlook is that we can tend to take things too literally. Titch is presumably a child (though played by an adult), yet she arrives at Nelly’s house unaccompanied. She was driven to Nelly’s house and dropped off but nobody insisted on seeing her safely into the house and making sure Nelly was at home. Also it’s quite hard to believe that Nelly’s house would be considered a suitable home for a child.

However Laura Dockrill’s play seems to be about something deeper than that. The house has clearly been neglected and my guess is that the house is an embodiment of Titch (exactly why she’d want to keep a nickname that minimises her as a person is unclear but maybe her birth name feels so unfamiliar, it doesn’t feel like her). I feel like the play is saying that Titch has suffered from neglect and has moved to a new home where she will be loved but there is still a lot of work to be done. The past isn’t going to be swept aside all at once, as dust is swept away with a duster. It’s going to be a slow and gradual process. Nelly will work through the ‘dust’ of Titch’s past, slowly gaining her trust, respect, and perhaps even her love. As Titch is coaxed into life, so will the house be.

Director Chris Elwell has put the house centre stage. It’s too small for the characters to go inside it but it gives you the impression of what it is like. It’s pink – the kind of house a lot of children (mainly but not exclusively girls) would see as a dream house… from the outside. But dreams don’t usually come true. The rooms are hanging on strings from the house, a bit like mobiles (the kind you hang over children’s beds, not phones). When Titch goes to her bedroom, she produces a puppet version of herself which is small enough for the bed. It could be a stylistic decision so the characters aren’t lost inside the house but I think perhaps Titch just doesn’t fit into her new life yet and consequently doesn’t fit into the house. The eponymous dust appears too and it’s quite alarming-looking at first but you do come to see it in new ways.

Katherine Vernez-Gray is an eccentric Nelly but there’s also something very wise and kind about her. Faye Veerasinghe is self-sufficient yet very vulnerable as Titch. The two actors have a great rapport and it’s nice to see the two characters slowly starting to understand each other.

This play is billed as being for 4-9 year olds. I think the most intelligent children in the higher end of the age range might pick up on the metaphorical angle but I think most of them will enjoy the comedy, the big characters, the music and the mess. I think they’d also like the idea of Titch finding a new home. Sadly, there are lots of children who would love to run away to a dream house to start a new life with somebody new, whether that’s something they desperately need or whether the child is in a situation where they and their parents are trying to find their way in negotiating life together. I think the play does also encourage you not to take things at face value and it shows that some things can be unexpectedly enjoyable. These are things it’s important for kids to learn.

Dust is a great story and deceptively clever. Unless of course I’ve made up the metaphorical angle completely. Adults do have a bad habit of seeing things that aren’t there!

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