The mayfly is a unique insect in the animal kingdom. The female gestates for two years in a river bed, reaches sexual maturity in flight, mates, lays its eggs on the water’s surface, and is dead in a day. Its primary purpose is procreation. In his debut play, Mayfly, Joe White uses the metaphor of the truncated life of a mayfly to introduce us to a day in the life of a family in emotional flight from the profound effects of grief.
In its opening scene, Cécile Trémolières’ simple but ingenious set design – overturned kitchen chairs resting on a sea of fallen leaves – foretell of death and domestic upheaval, the primary themes of this poignant drama, one that is infused with a sad, self mocking as the characters attempt to joke their way through grief.
The narrative plants its hook in the relationship between Loops (Evelyn Hoskins), a self-proclaimed ‘hard as fuck’ Shropshire girl and Harry (Irfan Shamji), a motherless son with an ear for the other’s pain and a capacity to listen. Loops is the daughter of Ben (Simon Scardifield) and Cat (Niky Wardley), a couple in a cloudy relationship that creates too many questions for the viewer. This is especially true of Cat, a character whose intention is never quite clear. Is she a small-town trollop? A woman in the throes of an irreparable grief? Or both? Certainly when she speaks on her mobile about a group of army mates who ask for a ‘gang bang’ and, later, when we learn who she imagines hears her words, it creates a puzzling aspect to her character. Wardley’s poignant interpretation of Cat holds our attention throughout but it works more in isolation, rather than in relation, to the other characters in Mayfly.
The character of Ben is the least developed and Scardifield has to work too hard to deliver Ben’s unspoken pain. We want to know more about him apart from the highly dramatic opening scene, where he is rescued from a near-fatal drowning attempt. Somehow the other players bang their breastplates and engage in overlong recitations of who they are and what they’ve encountered in life’s circuitous journey, while Ben is given little else to say. Rather than have Ben circle the Shropshire hillside, playwright White may reconsider paring back some of the verbose and sometimes tedious dialogue in favour of Ben, a character who deserves a more central role in the piece.
Director Guy Jones has lent a skilful hand to the multifarious strands that are woven through Mayfly and its exploration of a family beside itself through the loss of both brother and son. But the play relies too long on the humorous aspects of Loops and Harry’s relationship, as well as Cat’s narcissistic, boozy concerns that occupy too much space. With a bit of tweaking its full power will be easily unleashed.
Overall, it is an original exploration of how we confront the debilitating effects of tragedy, juxtaposed with the humour of how we carry on regardless, no matter how many times we are knocked back. This is what makes Mayfly a beautiful play.
Review by Loretta Monaco
In a season of plays at the Orange Tree set outside the metropolis, this new drama looks at life in rural Shropshire as a family searches for new beginnings.
“The mayfly hatches in the morning, mates in the afternoon, dies at night: a lot can happen in a day.”
Ben thinks they might be better off without him, but his wife Cat has read her stars: “Today a very special person will appear from out the blue.”
Their daughter Loops is getting ready for a date. It’s her first one, and she has everything crossed.
“People think that cos you’re from a small village, everyone will know you. But we can still go missing. Even out here.”
An ethereal family drama, Joe White’s debut play Mayfly explores rebirth in the aftermath of tragedy.
Evelyn Hoskins, Simon Scardifield, Irfan Shamji and Niky Wardley appear in the world premiere of Joe White’s debut play Mayfly. Directed by Guy Jones, the production is designed by Cécile Trémolières, the Lighting Designer is Christopher Nairne and Jon Ouin, who was a member of the band Stornoway, is Sound Designer and Composer.
19 April – 26 May 2018
Orange Tree Theatre, 1 Clarence Street, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 2SA