When Little Titch and her scruffy rucksack arrive at the giant, pink house it is not what she expected – a blanket of thick grey dust covers everything in sight and it is wild and overgrown. Her new home is cold and unwelcoming until she meets Nelly, a flamboyant and loveable hoarder. Together the pair discover they have more in common than they first thought and that friendship can heal hidden wounds.
Written by acclaimed award winning children’s author Laura Dockrill (Darcy Burdock book series, Big Bones) Dust used exquisite poetic language to explore a heartfelt story about love, loss, identity and memory. With haunting music by Hugo White of The Maccabees, this striking and emotional play was a joyous reminder about just how playful the world can be.
Dust was a Half Moon and Z-arts co-production: an exciting collaboration by the UK’s leading small-scale young people’s venue and touring company and Manchester’s unique and award-winning venue for children and families.
The production was ready to go on a venue national tour from 18 March – 19 April 2020, when COVID-19 put the country into lockdown just as it reached its dress rehearsal. As a result the show never opened, and sadly the tour cancelled.
Subsequently, the production was re-mounted and filmed in Autumn 2020 for digital screenings during the COVID-19 pandemic. A British Sign Language interpreted recording was also made available. The films premiered on 6 February 2021, with repeat screenings throughout February and March 2021. Alongside the films were three online creative learning workshops for audiences to take part in at home, exploring the themes of the show. All the films had closed captioning for d/Deaf and hard of hearing audiences.
The production won the 2022 OnComm Offiettes Award for Best Theatre for Children Aged 5-11 at the Offies, the Off West End Theatre Awards. The OnComm Offiettes recognise productions for young people that were presented live or online during 2021. They form part of the Offies, which acknowledge the excellence of shows from independent, alternative and fringe theatre.
From autumn 2021 the production has been available to watch via Half Moon’s On Demand service.
The filming of Dust was made possible by funding from The National Lottery Community Fund, distributed by City Bridge Trust through the London Community Response Fund. Thanks to National Lottery players for making this possible.
The 2020 cast of Dust talk about the production.
“It should be a bit grubby really, a play about dust. Yet this production has an inherent beauty and magic that belies the chaotic, quirky set at its centre, and the fluffy layers of history that rest upon it. Dust deals with a number of difficult emotions, but with such a light touch it’s suitable for children of any age, including the adult kind”.
★★★★ Everything Theatre Review
“Dust is a great story and deceptively clever”.
★★★★ Mobile Theatre Review (Feb 2021)
“One of the most magnificent sets I have ever seen… An ancient tale reimagined with new actors and a show-stopping set.”
★★★ A Younger Theatre
“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.”
★★★ A Younger Theatre
“An utterly enjoyable production… This production has an inherent beauty and magic…”
★★★★ Everything Theatre
“.. A cheerful parable of young befriending old. It’s an ancient tale reimagined with new actors and a show-stopping set”.★★★★ A Younger Theatre
“A captivating, imaginative production that uses tiny particles to make big things possible”
★★★★ Everything Theatre
“The target age range for this is 4-9 year olds but even at my advanced age I could appreciate the love and care with which this play has been put together…. A captivating play!”
2nd from Bottom
“The set is absolutely gorgeous and I would love to have it in my room. Dust has been my favourite show that I have watched so far. I loved this show the puppets and everything. I would rate this a 10/10. Would definitely advise you to watch it.”
Lotte, age 9
“I watched this today with my 6 year old – she was captivated from start to finish (as was I!) What a gorgeous piece of theatre – the set is amazing and the music was so beautifully incorporated – both actors were excellent. Thank you so much!!!”
Naomi Phillips, via Facebook
“It was truly beautiful and moving. The kids and I loved it!”
Malthi, audience member
“This was utterly delightful. Highly recommended.”
Sophia, via Twitter
“We were transported!! Magical, warm and inventive.”
Leila, via Twitter
“Many thanks for providing free access to watch Dust. We really enjoyed the performance and wanted to make a small contribution to thank you.”
Jenni, audience member from Newton Abbott
“Myself and my daughter (aged 10) enjoyed this very much!”
Tamara, via Vimeo
“My students watched Dust this morning and I wanted to let you know that it received a standing ovation from the students in school!!! Online students have been saying how interesting and moving it was to watch.”
Drama & Ethics Teacher
“I LOVED it, it was so beautiful designed and the music was great, upbeat at moments and gentle and soothing at others. The acting as always first rate. This is not just a show for younger audience members but for all. GCSE students could use this show for their written component easily. So much to write about for set/props and acting skills as the main character takes on several roles.”
Drama & Ethics Teacher
Dust is a show about memory, loss and love. It’s about identity and how to make peace with yourself and your past. And, of course, family too. How you can make and find a family anywhere, with anybody, so long as there is warmth and kindness.
What was the inspiration for the story?
Titch presented herself to me out of the blue. I knew I wanted to write a bold little girl that was ‘fearless’ and defensive. I loved Tracy Beaker and all the Jacqueline Wilson books growing up so this was a chance to use that inspiration.
The Half Moon suggested a two-hander to me, so choosing a character to oppose Titch was really fun; then Nelly rolled in and made the script light and amusing. And the house! A few years back I went to America to do some writing and landed in a giant pink mansion house – I always knew the house would find itself into a piece of writing and here it is!
Why do the issues in Dust particularly resonate with you?
My mum was adopted, so I have always had an interest in that; we often joke that my mum’s real parents were a shark and a T-Rex because of her wild and strong personality. I have a toddler myself, so the idea of motherhood is very interesting to me and something I have recently been exploring.
I visit a lot of schools and meet a lot of young people that come from different backgrounds, places of trauma or disadvantage. It always strikes me how time and love can mend that, through building relationships, history and unlocking the past. I find children very resilient and robust – it’s us adults that are the delicate ones!
You are an award-winning children’s author, what are the challenges of writing a play for young people?
Kids can smell it out if you aren’t being truthful to yourself, so you have to be very genuine, honest and wear your heart on your sleeve in order for a young person to ‘go’ with your story and believe in it. Of course, I am battling with attention spans – the distractions of games consoles, cheese and onion crisps and bogey picking – so I’ve tried to keep the language rhythmic and upbeat whilst anchoring to a story with heart. If I want audience members to feel something, I need to give them something of myself.
How does your writing process differ between writing a book and a play?
It’s exactly the same – just my sister or Hugo has to play the other part. Plus a word on a page has space to live and spread, whereas on stage it hangs like dirty laundry if left too long!
Why do you think it’s important to create work specifically for young people?
Storytelling is what connects us and unites us; it reminds us that we are not alone. Often the things we believe are the most personal and what is actually the most universal.
Theatre is a collaborative process. How are you feeling about seeing your play brought to life with other creative elements?
I cannot wait! In a book I have to do all the hard work. I have to wake my characters up and brush their teeth and feed them and make them talk – in a play an actor can do all that for me and I can sit back with a tub of ice cream and enjoy it (I hope!).
How do you want audiences to feel during / after the show?
It would be nice if the audience enjoys the language and music, finds heart and warmth in the story and wants the best for Titch. Also the importance of listening and talking to our elders, finding out about their pasts and history. It’s difficult to imagine our own parents and grandparents as children, but they once were – maybe we have more in common than we think?
Describe Dust in three words.
Magic. Memories. Home.
And finally, why should people watch Dust?
To see magic. To have your heart warmed. To believe in hope.
What was your inspiration for creating the music for Dust?
I was involved from a very early stage on this project. My inspiration came from the feeling of the script; the story has an underlying gentle magic to it that I always felt would translate into the music.
How does music help bring a production to life?
Music can really dictate how the audience is drawn through a play. It can provide a backdrop that can help heighten, or direct, the audience’s emotions, whether that be subliminal or direct and forceful. The beautiful thing about a soundtrack that’s written alongside a script is that it can essentially ensure the journey’s emotions are reflected, or played within the right context, throughout, heightening the experience.
How did you go about structuring the music? Do the different characters have their own musical themes?
I spent some time with Chris Ewell, the director of Dust, discussing this before I wrote the music in full. He had broken the script down for me, so we could clearly see all the transitions in mood and feeling that went alongside the characters. There are a lot of twists and turns in the play, so it was very important we were on the same page. With each character, I evolved a musical theme that could be reused, including a theme for the ‘dust’ itself.
I believe there is a song in the show using your vocals. How did this come about?
Laura Dockrill’s script contained a few poems that naturally felt like songs for the characters to sing. I had originally sung these myself in the demos to map it out for the actors, however, a couple felt unique. Chris was keen to keep my vocal in the show and use it to create space and reflection in the play.
What’s your process for creating a score for the theatre?
Understanding is key; I need to really understand the script, where it pushes and pulls and what it’s making me feel emotionally. I sketched out a few pieces of music early on and kept building on them. Ultimately, there was a point where I really got into the headspace of it and I wrote and recorded the score over a two or three day period.
Is your writing process different when writing for an album or a play?
Yes, it is! My experience with writing albums is that you usually start with nothing and keep writing until a pattern emerges and you begin to realise what it is you’re getting to; from that point you begin refining. However, with a play the idea is already fully formed and realised before you start, so it’s just a case of aligning with it and being able to translate that emotionally through the music.
By its nature, music is about listening, whereas theatre is also about the visual. How are you feeling about hearing and seeing your score in a theatre setting?
I’m excited to see everything come together; there has been so much attention to detail in this project. I really hope people can enjoy it the way I have whilst creating the music for it.
Describe your music for Dust in three words.
Blissful. Floating. Earthy.
Finally, why should people watch Dust?
Because where else are you going to see a play about dust? It’s magic!