Review: Disturbing the Dust, Etcetera Theatre

Etcetera Theatre’s Disturbing the Dust has a plot that vaguely resembles Toy Story while hinting at an ongoing war outside, but what is the actual message or meaning of this play?

Set in an attic where human-sized toys have come to life, an Italian puppet (Alex Cordrey), a Scottish bear (Linda McDade), an English doll (Lily Chantry) and a questionable art project that consists of a man in a morph suit (Johnny Whiting), all go about their trivial activities. They have been left to collect dust and are pointlessly waiting for their owner to return from war. Their day consists of making tea, trying to open a trap door and opening a suitcase that might hold some answers for the existentialism of these characters. But all of this is to no avail and they promptly go to bed and repeat the activities when they wake again.

It is a nod towards Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot, a popular play that is known for its bizarrely pointless nature and groundbreaking work in tragicomedy. But Disturbing the Dust doesn’t have the same excellence when it comes to pulling this idea off. Instead, it is a series of dramatic arguments that are pointlessly staged and are confusing within the plot and unfortunately, this makes for an uninteresting plot and a clumsy script. Inconsistencies are also seen when nuggets of information are left unanswered by the end and most of it feels perplexing. An unfortunate outcome in what could have been a comically pointless and intriguing play.

Disturbing the Dust also gives hints that the toys owner Benjamin is at war and his nephew Tommy has been evacuated with his sister. It touches on the loss of war and the heartbreaking tragedies that ensues. But it doesn’t nearly go into enough detail for it to have the full effect and intrigue that this topic can have. It ends with a feeling of incompleteness and might make you wonder what you have just watched for the last 60 minutes.

There is gentle humour throughout that feels farce-like in its ability to press the same joke over and over. For example the attempt to talk to inanimate objects is used continually, which is slightly amusing to start with but soon becomes tiresome. The acting style that has been chosen feels unnatural for this script, although the actors do a good job at encompassing the toy-like physicality. Both the Italian and Scottish accents are accurate and remain strong throughout the evening. However this ‘over acting’ style in the intimate pub theatre is too much and ends up feeling like insincere portrayals of emotion. This is due to the characters needing to act out a sudden change of emotions from cheerful to angry in a heartbeat, which is a difficult job for the actors that unfortunately makes these moments feel fake and forced.

Etcetera Theatre is a quaint space and the actors do well to use what little stage they have. But there are moments that are ineffective, such as a scene when the toys are supposed to be dropping a key and a letter off a ‘rafter’ but are instead just dropping these objects on the floor. I feel they could have created a cleverer solution to produce a better illusion.

Overall, Disturbing the Dust attempts to create a tragicomic play set during World War II, but unfortunately it falls short and creates a mystifying play that feels like a spin-off of Toy Story.

Disturbing the Dust played at The Etcetera Theatre  until 2 March 2019. For more information see the Etcetera Theatre website.