Winners all round when Dust settles
Dust at the State Theatre Centre. Picture: Gary Marsh.

THEATRE

Dust


By Suzie Miller

3.5 stars

Black Swan State Theatre Compan
y

State Theatre Centre


REVIEW DAVID ZAMPATTI

I owe the Black Swan Theatre Company, and the playwright Suzie Miller, something of an apology. As it turns out, Dust, her play that takes place as a cloud of red dust engulfs Perth, is far less portentous and apocalyptic than I feared it would be. It's also lighter, sweeter and a deal more fun than I expected.

The storm causes havoc in Perth, but superficially; a flash wedding at the Cottesloe Civic Centre turns from white to red, the airport shuts down for the day and people are advised not to venture outdoors.

The rumoured danger from asbestos and uranium particles in the cloud - this mirrors actual fears that were held during the great dust cloud event on the east coast in 2009 - are quickly debunked, and,

by and large, lives go on as normal.

Thankfully it's those lives Miller is focused on rather than the glowering sky. The dust only incidentally, and most often serendipitously, affects the interactions between the characters.

While it flies, an Aboriginal mine manager (Kelton Pell) fends off a fussy neighbour (Caroline McKenzie) and has a rapprochement with his troubled step-daughter (Charlotte Devenport).

A successful artist (Alison van Reeken), who has returned home to Perth to cope with the imminent death of her sister (Gemma Willing) and her own fears of mortality, has an initially prickly encounter with an Egyptian-Australian taxi driver (Nicholas Starte).

Two people (Ben Mortley and Willing) who hook up through an online dating site find their one-night stand extending into the next day because of the storm.

A pair of FIFO workers (van Reeken and Benj D'Addario) - she, it transpires, plies her trade without high-res vests, or, indeed, much else in the way of clothing - get acquainted over the free drinks in an airport lounge.

And, after a hissy fit or two, the happy couple (Devenport and Starte) get to walk down the aisle.

The cast is a happy mix of seasoned pros and bright young things, and they are all terrific. Director Emily McLean handles her Heath Ledger debut with aplomb and Fiona Bruce's billowing set and Trent Suidgeest's shades of ochre lighting are often spectacular.

If you were fortunate enough to see the British company Kneehigh Theatre's wonderful Brief Encounter at the Regal last year, you'll quickly recognise its kinship to the staging of this production.

The effects of smoke, light and wind managed by the cast and the clever transition from live to filmed action add greatly to the enjoyment of the piece. Congratulations to Lisa McCready and her assistant Louise Wardle, Dust's stage managers, for what must have been quite an undertaking.

Dust is not without its limitations: while the little stories Miller tells are neatly formed and reach tidy conclusions, there is no connection between them other than the dust storm.

And because that is a device, or, at most, an ambience, rather than driving an active dramatic arc, the play lacks the tension and momentum it needs to be completely successful. But there is plenty to compensate for that shortcoming.

Dust is one of the most enjoyable and impressive new Australian plays Black Swan has mounted in recent years, and well worth seeing.

Dust runs until July 13.

The West Australian

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