Under the tenure of Paul Miller, the Orange Tree Theatre has shown a fierce commitment to new writing, but Joe White’s Mayfly is the first debut play to be staged there since Miller’s ascendancy, and it’s easy to see why it made the cut.
Set in a remote village in Shropshire, Mayfly takes place over a day in the life of a fractured family, and a stranger whose life intersects with theirs. If I’m being vague, it’s deliberate – the slow drip of information is what fuels the gradual reveals over the course of the play. With careful direction by Guy Jones, Mayfly is a sharply-observed portrayal of grief, and the sadness that rises to fill the spaces that form when something is removed unexpectedly from our lives.
The play isn’t afraid to go to dark places – it’s no spoiler to say that it opens with the suicide attempt of Ben (Simon Scardifield). Faced with an impossibly bleak opening, it’s to White’s credit that he’s able to puncture the drama with unexpected bursts of comedy that work well. There’s no weak link in a hard-working cast, but Evelyn Hoskins as Ben’s camo-clad daughter and Irfan Shamji as the stranger who blows in to the family’s lives are both particular highlights, with Shamji knocking his character’s awkward humour out of the park.
Running at a tight 95 minutes, it’s a play brimming with tenderness and emotional articulacy. This articulacy sometimes carries over to the characters a shade too much – everyone is a little too good at voicing exactly what is going on in their head, but this is a play that knows what is and wears it proudly. Meticulous in structure, White stacks the narrative chips early and cashes them in to great effect later on. With its motifs being called back and resolved so cleanly, the play does perhaps sacrifice some of its mystery, but remains a heartfelt and keen piece of writing. A highly promising debut.