Joe White’s debut play Mayfly at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond condenses the lives of four people in a small village into one fateful Sunday, which marks the one-year-anniversary of a tragic event that no one dares to voice out loud.
While Loops defiantly asks out bartender Harry, her mother Cat leaves increasingly desperate voice mails to a phone number that never calls back. Father Ben is rescued from the river by Harry, who later finds himself at a microwaved dinner with the whole family, who all seem to see someone else in him.
Loss and grief are at the centre of this emotional play, that is based on the idea that each day is a little life. Just like the mayfly, that hatches in the morning, mates in the afternoon and dies at night, a lot can happen in the span of 24 hours.
White is an excellent storyteller and sews the different narrative threads together with sophisticated ease. The first half of the play requires the audience to piece together bits of the puzzle in order to find out what happened on that tragic day one year ago. The last half sees Harry struggling with that exact same question at the dinner table, while the emotions rise higher and higher.
The cast treats this beautiful piece of writing well; all the actors truly bring their characters to life, and give authentic, believable performances. They don’t only manage to pull off the emotional moments, but the comedic ones as well – and there are plenty, despite the heavy subject matter of thee piece. White manages to switch between the touching and the comic in a very short span of time, and there is audible laughter from the audience on numerous occasions.
Credit must also be given to Guy Jones for his excellent direction. The Orange Tree Theatre, though beautiful and intimate, can be a hard space to perform in, with its square stage and in-the-round audience set-up, but apart from a few moments, Jones manages to avoid sight line issues or problems with audibility.
The lighting design and set complement the acting well, and there are some stunning visual moments. Transitions are smooth, and the performance has a clean, smooth feel to it. All in all, Mayfly combines a number of great ingredients to achieve an accomplished performance of a beautiful piece of writing – a very promising debut play.
Mayfly is playing at the Orange Tree Theatre until 26 May. For more information and tickets, see https://www.orangetreetheatre.co.uk/whats-on/mayfly