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Laura Dockrill’s Dust begins with one of the most magnificent sets I have ever seen. A fairy-dust pink dollhouse wobbles centre-stage with windmill sails spinning on top. From these sails dangle a series of tottering objects, suspended in string, including a record player, mysterious jars and a book stack. Ivy entangles the whole thing from top to bottom. We soon learn that these dangling items will represent which room in the mansion our protagonist Titch (performed by Faye Weerasinghe) has wandered into.
Titch forces herself to be unafraid in her new environment, carrying a puppet version of herself which sports a matching Coraline yellow raincoat. I only wish the actor’s costumes were as conceptual as the set they play across. Soon Titch stumbles across the flamboyant Nelly (vibrantly performed by Katherine Vernez-Gray): together they make up a grumpy orphan archetype versus the cheerful mother-figure and the journey is terribly fun. Nelly cries out, “I’ve got plenty of space for a friend.”
The house becomes its own entity but what can you expect from a bubble-gum pink mansion with a monster lurking in the walls? A tiny bedroom folds out of the set like a pop-up book. Miniature Titch toddles about with a miniature torch, her black eyes catching the stage-lights and gleaming. Weerasinghe does an amazing job animating her puppet and Vernez-Gray is nothing but joy, spouting nonsense like, “I’d like to thank my pet tortoise for being so supportive.” There are feminisms delicately woven into the fabric of the performance, making for a nuanced progressive energy. For instance, the mansion used to belong to Nelly’s cross-dressing explorer relative who deceived the men who would otherwise prevent her research into letting her adventure. Authenticity is a fundamental teaching in this piece, and the children watching will learn this from the two performers who offer boundless radiance with their smiles and movements.
But there’s also an unexpected sadness to be found here. Dust and death and decomposition are made pleasant. The costumes puff out clouds of dust whenever they pat themselves down, reminding us of what happens when journeys inevitably end (my asthma is very grateful for the remote stream). Hugo White’s soundscape is dreamlike with soft acoustics and delicate male vocals. It gives a wholesome accompaniment to a tale of not knowing your place as a person. I only wish some of the spoken-word was altered into musical numbers as it is, at times, a little jarring.
The duo use their puppets to create the story, pulling peg dolls from a baby-pink suitcase and bopping them atop. While some of the segments may seem a little limp, lacking the nuances which open up child-like depictions of feminism and coming-of-age, the production is earthy and humble. The whole story is fundamentally about Titch and Nelly’s developing relationship and it’s a cheerful parable of young befriending old. It’s an ancient tale reimagined with new actors and a show-stopping set.
Dust was playing online until 26th February. For more information see Half Moon Theatre’s website.