Review: MAYFLY, Orange Tree Theatre

By: Apr. 24, 2018

Review: MAYFLY, Orange Tree Theatre

Review: MAYFLY, Orange Tree Theatre Historically, Richmond's Orange Tree Theatre was a well-known champion of new talent. However, until now, Artistic Director Paul Miller and Executive Director Sarah Nicholson were yet to stage a debut play. Joe White is an alumnus of the Orange Tree Writers Collective, and his first play has clearly impressed them. Mayfly is based on the heartbreakingly short life cycle of a mayfly; a lifetime can happen in just one day. It is a grandiose idea and one that White makes a courageous and often very successful attempt to explore.

Set in rural Shropshire in the middle of spring, the play follows the events of a single day that brings a stranger into the lives of a family and explores how individuals deal with being broken by loss and grief.

The cast of four is collectively very strong and all performances are sensitive and believable. Simon Scardifield plays Ben, a father and a husband who is struggling to remember how to be either. We are introduced first to his desperation and then later to his quiet attempts to carry on.

Wife and mother Cat is played with anxious sadness by Niky Wardley; her grief manifests through desperate phone calls that will never be answered and nervous skittishness. Her grief is wide-eyed and slightly frantic.

Outspoken daughter Loops is a joy to watch, played with bolshie verbosity by Evelyn Hoskins. Her vulgarity and bluntness mask deep insecurities and the gradual breakdown of her aggressive defences is quietly heartbreaking to watch.

Irfan Shamji is brilliant as the kind hearted but emotionally scarred Harry. He is very adept at portraying an innocent young man, who is impressed and slightly unsure about Loops and her family. He has a very convincing, if not rather off-beat chemistry with all the other characters, but especially Cat. A scene near the end where she asks him to call her phone and say particular phrases to her is delicate and very touching.

There is nothing radical, shocking, or, indeed, new here, but White is a sensitive and observant writer. This is a play which is based on huge themes of grief, loss and coping, but it is the small details in his script that often have the most impact; the description of the cut of a pair of jeans that Harry mistakenly wears, a vivid memory of dirt in someone's eye.

There is a lot of dark humour in the play and White has an ability to switch between sharp wit and pathos in a heartbeat. The play is not always easy to watch, as there is a deep rawness to the different sorts of pain felt by each character. It is a shame that the ending (no spoilers here) contains more than a hint of saccharine sentimentality, which does not appear in the rest of the play.

Director Guy Jones makes good use the unique space of the Orange Tree, with the exception of the first scene between Ben and Loops. Set in Ben's shed, Jones wedges the actors into one tight corner of the stage, making it very hard for all the audience to see.

The future of theatre depends on theatres like the Orange Tree, which take chances on new talent. This is an impressive debut from a very promising writer: bravo.

Mayfly is the Orange Tree Theatre until 26 May

Photo Credit: Helen Murray