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Dust @ The Heath Ledger Theatre

0198 Dust. Image by Gary Marsh Photography

30/6/14

By Samuel J. Cox

Enjoying its world premiere, this play by the Black Swan State Theatre Company centres upon a surreal, freak event; a dust storm that descends upon the relatively unusual setting of Perth WA. The modern day piece is filled with places and characters the audience will recognise and relate to, and is surely directed by Emily McLean. There isn’t a plot as such, as we flit between fractured images of a variety of lives and situations. The audience is witness to, among others, the raw interactions of a damaged FIFO worker (Benj D’Addario) and an anxious stripper (Alison van Reeken) stranded in Perth Domestic Airport as flights are grounded; the powerful and moving performance of Kelton Pell whose character attempts to overcome his troubled relationship with his stepdaughter and re-connect; and Ben Morton and Gemma Willing whose one-night-stand is prolonged by the weather.

The physical representations of the beautiful and dangerous titular natural phenomenon were striking. An exercise in layers and details, it required the best of Set (and Costume) Designer Fiona Bruce and Lighting Designer Trent Suidgeest, with audiovisuals from James Luscombe and Mia Holton. The cast, rather than stagehands, wielded fans, streamers, and smoke machines, simulating the storm in action, and heavy drapes, all folds and soft angles, rose from the stage bathed in shades of orange, red and gold. As Walt Disney said: ‘if you can dream it, you can do it’.

A natural and human drama, the downbeat play almost suggests something about WA’s connection to nature, but never says anything profound. It’s easy viewing, rather than compelling, and while the ‘ending’ suits the tone of the play, the literal and metaphorical cleansing it suggests is soft.

0030 Nicholas Starte, Alison van Reeken. Dust. Image by Gary Marsh Photography

The work is a product of the Rio Tinto Black Swan Commission; a collaboration between the State theatre company and their principal partner that offers commissions, dramaturgy and workshops for new plays. The program has previously resulted in Aidan Fennessy’s ‘National Interest’ (2012) and Hilary Bell’s ‘The White Divers of Broome’ (2012) among other successful pieces.

Created by award winning Australian playwright Suzie Miller, a NIDA graduate now based in London, the dialogue was instinctive and unobtrusive, and the play paces along slowly, building like the storm. It echoes the whirling emotion on stage, and there is an atmosphere of uncertainty that sees characters gush their secrets to strangers or loved ones. The play’s strength lies in how it will make you feel. Imbued with sadness and nostalgic reflections it is, in the words of Darth Vader, ‘impressive.’

While the box-office reliant State theatre company has a 2014 program stacked with traditional Chekhov, Shakespeare and Tennessee to attract subscriptions, it is encouraging to see that they have still left room for such tender and moving new work.

‘Dust’ runs until July 13.

0023 Benj D'Addario, Charlotte Devenport, Caroline McKenzie. Dust. Image by Gary Marsh Photography

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