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Novel set in the theatre (Hull)
13th February 2020
I am Dust by Louise Beech, novel set in the theatre (Hull).
The Dean Wilson theatre opened in 1999 with a production of Dust, a musical. The production looks set to be a real winner until, only four days into its run, the leading lady, Morgan Miller, is murdered in her dressing room. No one is convicted of her murder and, from that date, her ghost is said to haunt the theatre; her wraith-like figure has been glimpsed lurking in the gloomy rooms backstage and her beautiful voice can often be heard delivering songs from the musical.
Now, twenty years later, the show is to be revived and performed again in the theatre where it was first staged. The staff in the theatre are thrilled by the news, although also a little apprehensive. Will it bring misfortune again if the musical is staged and who will dare to audition for the main role? Chloe, the central character in the novel, has more cause than most to be uneasy since she has personally experienced several supernatural occurrences when the ghost of the dead actress has made her presence felt. The controversial decision to revive the musical, however, proves justified when tickets for the show sell out almost immediately. The Dean Wilson theatre has been struggling for years and this show looks likely to revive its flagging fortunes.
I am Dust is set in two different periods: the first 2005 when we follow teenage Chloe and her two friends, Jess and Ryan, as they rehearse for a local youth theatre performance of Macbeth. It is a scorching hot summer and feelings run high. Chloe watches miserably as her best friend Jess, playing Lady Macbeth, falls for charismatic Ryan who is playing Macbeth. Chloe is in love with Jess herself but has never declared her feelings. Ryan, much like the character he is playing, is filled with savage ambition and persuades the two girls to participate in a dangerous game of summoning spirits via a Ouija board, with some shocking consequences. Beech manages to convey very sensitively the angst of unrequited love and the turmoil of feelings that can easily overwhelm a teenager. These early scenes are skilfully interwoven with scenes from 2019, when Chloe is working in the theatre and helping to prepare for the new production of Dust, the backstory providing the reader with an explanation for Chloe’s present troubled state.
The whole action of the novel is set in the Dean Wilson theatre in 2019 and in the old building used for the youth theatre in 2005. It is obvious that Beech intimately knows the world of theatre, both front of house and backstage, and she really brings it to life for the reader. There is a real clarity to her prose and some wonderful imagery that evokes the sights, sounds, smells and general atmosphere of the theatre brilliantly.
I am Dust makes for compelling reading. It is a real page-turner, part ghost story, part romance and part whodunnit. It is beautifully written, which is an unexpected bonus in a such a pacy novel and it also sensitively and informatively explores the issue of self-harm. I loved the characterisation. Chloe is fully realised and multi-dimensional and Chester, a delightful character, very much a child of our time, provides some much-needed light relief.
All in all, I’ll be surprised if I read anything else as good as this in 2020.
Ellen for the TripFiction Team
You can pre-order I am Dust (out digital 16.2.20 and paperback 16.4.20)
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