Mayfly is an exploration of grief on two levels. It shows a community clinging to an old way of life while everyone else is moving to town. Sophie Talbot investigates:

Joe White’s debut play Mayfly transports us from the Orange Tree Theatre to the middle of nowhere, a Shropshire village that has lost out big time to capitalism. Cécile Trémolières’ modest and ethereal set design – damp leaves, a tall tree and overturned plant pots & chairs – perfectly captures an abandoned rural community that’s fallen behind the times. The pub here isn’t just closing down, it’s crumbling, and Harry (Irfan Shamji) is collecting glasses after the last last orders.

Mayfly Orange Tree Theatre

Irfan Shamji & Niky Wardley (image courtesy of Helen Murray)

Harry, over the course of a single day, encounters Ben (Simon Scardifield) & Cat (Niky Wardley) and their twenty-five-year-old daughter Loops (Evelyn Hoskins). The family have suffered a terrible tragedy, which nobody is talking about, and we later learn that Harry has been bottling up his own loss. The meetings between each character feels a little unnatural, almost too much for one day, but this is easy to forgive when their grief feels so real.

Wardley and Scardifield give heart-breaking performances as parents hanging on by a thread, while Hoskins nails the delicate balance of ferocious and vulnerable in her portrayal of the ‘hard as fuck’, but regressive, Loops. Shamji delights and pulls at your heartstrings in equal measure, as a man repressing unbearable sadness beneath his lovable awkwardness and droll chat.

Mayfly Orange Tree Theatre

Niky Wardley & Simon Scardifield (image courtesy of Helen Murray)

Mayfly is an exploration of grief on two levels. It shows a community clinging to an old way of life while everyone else is moving to town, and a family doing the same. White pinpoints perhaps the most difficult part of loss – your whole world can be falling apart, you can be frozen in time, but the rest of the world is carrying on. And if you don’t find a way to deal with your grief, you’ll get left behind.

Despite the production being close to bursting with tragedy, it also packs in moments of guttural belly laughter – Shamji and Hoskins in particular are responsible for this. Very occasionally, White’s dialogue doesn’t truly feel genuine or natural, but overall the words become springboards for the actors, who bounce off one another and capture the essence of a tight-knit community existing miles away from scowling strangers on the tube.

Mayfly Orange Tree Theatre

Niky Wardley, Irfan Shamji, Simon Scardifield & Evelyn Hoskins (image courtesy of Helen Murray)

Director Guy Jones skilfully entwines the characters’ interactions with nervous humour and fraught pauses, creating a tension that bubbles underneath the surface of the production and the sense that something big is about to happen. And it does. Things take a strange turn in the final minutes, as Harry’s encounters collide at the family dinner table and the foursome make a desperate attempt to bring back what they’ve lost. But they can’t. As grief pours out and onto the stage, we see what they – what many people – must do to move forward.

Mayfly is another heart-warming bit of magic staged by the Orange Tree Theatre, a strong debut play by White. Neither writer nor venue are falling behind the times; hopefully they’ll never look back.

 

 

★★★☆☆

Mayfly runs at the Orange Tree Theatre until 26 May 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.