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Mayfly review at Orange Tree Theatre, London – ‘promising new writing’

Evelyn Hoskins in Mayfly at Orange Tree Theatre, London. Photo: Helen Murray Evelyn Hoskins in Mayfly at Orange Tree Theatre, London. Photo: Helen Murray

“A lot can happen in a day” is the low-bubbling refrain of Joe White’s debut play Mayfly. Set in rural Shropshire, it’s a play doused in grief, both for departed individuals and a whole way of countryside life.

Ben (Simon Scardifield) and Cat (Niky Wardley) live with their 20-something daughter Loops (Evelyn Hoskins), a bundle of  humour and vulnerability who seems much younger than she is. The fragile Cat reads a horoscope giving her false hope that an important person will arrive in her life – insinuated at first as a lover, but later revealed as the son who can never return.

Hoskins is a raw, messy explosion of emotion as Loops, a woman who claims – almost sweetly – to be “hard as fuck”, yet chooses a boyfriend based on a childish game at camp, 10 years earlier, that made them “nipple soul mates”.  Harry, the recipient of Loops’ affections, Irfan Shamji nails the tongue-tied, hand-wringing mannerisms of a guy who knows he’s on the worst first date ever, but is far too nice to say so.

Loops lives in a world of closing-down pubs, out-of-town retirees and alcoholism. It’s a place where the only options for young people like her are joining the army, working in Spar or leaving. Cecile Tremoliere’s set design presents it as a rural locale where even the pot plants have given up and, unloved, grown leggy and limp.

White’s play hints at the redemptive power of sharing trauma and of new beginnings. But some of the dialogue is awkwardly unnatural and the continual return to memories frustrates the overall momentum of the plot.

Like the titular creature, it flickers brightly at first, but feels a little insubstantial.

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Promising new writing based on a family grappling with rural poverty and loss