With their latest performance piece, the Milk Crate Theatre team proves that you don’t need high production values or big name actors to create a high quality piece of theatre – you just need a lot of heart. Dust is immersive theatre in the truest sense, intimate and engaging.
When a dust storm breaks out in the tiny fictional town of Bunan, a group of people find themselves trapped in the local pub, and old tensions settle in. Elixir (Kamini Singh) is a middle-aged woman, owner of the pub, mother to a rebellious teenage daughter, and devoted resident of Bunan. Jeddi (Lana Filies) is said teenage daughter – loud, obnoxious, restless, and anxious to leave Bunan and explore the city.
William (Matthias Nudl) is the English teacher at the local school and also appears to be a permanent guest at the hotel. Kirra (Darlene Proberts) is a friend from Elixir’s past who is in town for her mother’s funeral and makes an ill-timed visit to the pub. Two Bob (Desmond Edwards) is a boisterous, pretentious larrikin whose appearance and connection is never really explained; as such, he adds an element of mystery and surrealism.
The play opens with Jeddi throwing a tantrum about not being allowed to go to the city while Elixir defiantly cleans and fusses, unmoved. William, who is steadfast in his diplomacy, tries not to get drawn in. His deadpan delivery provides much of the humour.
Kirra’s arrival adds even more tension to the scenario, but just when she decides it’s time to go, the storm hits. They are all now stuck. As the play progresses, secrets are gradually revealed, as are misunderstandings, undisclosed traumas, badly communicated intentions, and lots of misquoted verse from Two Bob.
The theatre space in the Richard Wherrett Studio at Roslyn Packer Theatre is laid out in an unusual way, it’s the reverse of theatre in the round. There are two opposing stages, each representing different rooms in the pub. The audience sits on small stools on the floor space in between the stages. While this set up calls for a lot of twisting and turning, the stools make all that much easier.
The set design tends towards realism, with furniture and wall decor giving off a non-specific but distinctly retro vibe (something one of the characters jokingly alludes to).
Theatrical fog and lighting represent the tactical elements of the setting (like a power failure and the presence of the show’s namesake, dust) but the effects also add a surreal element. The esoteric soundscape by Prema Yin is worth particular mention – it provides an underscore that gives cohesion and density to the play.
Dust actually evolved online during the pandemic. Artistic director of Milk Crate Theatre, Margot Politis, organised Zoom workshops in lockdown as a way for people to stay connected, be creative and think about anything other than their problems. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the ideas revolved around isolation and being trapped in a fixed space, unable to exit because of the danger outside.
Many of the cast are not professional actors, and there is some roughness around the edges. But that, in fact, actually heightens the authenticity and the sense of intimacy.
At one hour or so, Dust is a very compact piece of storytelling that manages to convey a surprisingly dense narrative arc with satisfying resolution. It’s easy to imagine this piece being fleshed out into a full length play.
If you get a chance, see Dust. If you don’t, see whatever Milk Crate puts on next, it’s bound to be good.