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The Theatreguide.London Review

Orange Tree Theatre  Spring 2018

A lot can happen in a day. Mayflies are born, live and die. And on this particular day four emotionally damaged people encounter each other in various combinations and reach evening feeling just a little bit better. 

That's a small story, but Joe White's debut play tells it with a modest sincerity that carries it over some fledgeling-playwright awkwardness. 

Three of the four are related. In the morning father Ben (Simon Scardifield) is saved from a suicide attempt by passing lad Harry (Irfan Shamji). Later, not knowing about this, Ben's daughter Loops (Evelyn Hoskins), remembering a childhood encounter Harry has forgotten, tries to begin a romance with him. 

A little later wife/mother Cat (Niky Wardley) makes a drunken pass at Harry, and finally the four sit down to dinner, Harry discovering for the first time that the others are related. 

Along the way clues are dropped, and we are finally told openly, why the three family members are all feeling so needy on this particular day, and Harry speaks of his own emptiness. 

Playwright White is honest enough not to try to say that talking about one's pain removes it, but he convinces us that it eases some of the pressure and makes the pain just a little more bearable. 

The play's flaws are all technical. White feels the need to delay telling us the family's secret until near the end (and Harry's even longer), but that sometimes feels like pointless mystification, creating other unnecessary confusions (I spent much of the play thinking the parents were divorced). 

Each of the four is given an extended 'This is how I feel and here's why' monologue to fill in their characterisations and backstories. 

The psychological insights are convincing and help us understand each character's behaviour, but the method is typical of a beginning playwright who can't find a way to get this information out through conversations. (I kept being reminded of a couple of Edward Albee's earliest plays.) 

In director Guy Jones's smooth-flowing production Shamji and Hoskins play the younger couple as teenagers, and it comes as a surprise to read the published text and learn they're meant to be in their late twenties. (The hint of delayed growing-up may be intentional, but it's lost here.) 

Technique is easy to learn. Psychological insight, empathy for one's characters and the ability to make an audience share what you see and feel all of which White already has are what make a real playwright. 

Mayfly is pretty good and Joe White's next play is likely to be technically smoother, and the one after that even better. A very good reason to see Mayfly is to be able to say you were there at the very beginning.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Mayfly - Orange Tree Theatre 2018

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