Milly Thomas is giving a lot of herself to the Fringe this year. The playwright has two shows, one of which she’s also performing. Tackling mental health and toxic relationships, both draw on her own life.
In Dust, she plays a young woman witnessing the aftermath of her own suicide. “It’s a story about depression but also about hypocrisy – I’m just fascinated with the way we eulogise people once they die,” she says. It is, however, also funny: “If it wasn’t – my god, it’s so bleak!”
Dust grew out of Thomas’s experience of depression. “It’s a play that’s very much born of my anger. I was angry that I was an imposition to people, [or] that you have to tell the lie that you’re fine. But in exploring that, you also unearth how difficult it is for the people around you to do the right thing.”
Her other play, Brutal Cessation, looks at a relationship falling apart – and its starting point was Thomas’s irritation at her inability to communicate with a recent ex.
“I got so shocked at how difficult I found it to speak my mind; I wrote a scene out of sheer frustration!” The play looks at the sort of relationship we’ve all been in or witnessed, limping on because "it’s scarier to leave than it is to stay. [But] resentment can build up and tip into this horrible thing, almost pre-violence, a cold war.”
Its eye-catching conceit is that the actors—one man, one woman—swap roles throughout, unsettling our gendered assumptions about abuse and victimhood. “When you’re confronted with the physical presence of male and female bodies, it’s not a game anymore,” she says. “It’s really thrown up a lot of my own internalised sexism, just watching.”
Edinburgh is also the city where Thomas’s recent screenwriting debut—BBC3’s Clique, a slick drama about terrifyingly ambitious students—was set. She got the job after giving a very candid interview. “The team asked me if I had a nice time at university, and I nearly lied." Her decision to fess up that it was the worst four years of her life prompted a warm, "Welcome aboard!” she says.
After having a terrible time at Bristol University, writing Clique proved “almost cathartic” for Thomas. Now Fringe audiences, too, can enjoy a double dose of her candour.