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A CurtainUp London Review

"I saw a ghost once. It was just a bin bag in a tree." — Loops
Evelyn Hoskins as Loops and Irfan Shamji as Harry (Photo: Helen Murray)
Once again in a week of London openings of productions costing millions, the Orange Tree brings us great theatre in a small scale drama with a great capacity to relate to us all. Joe White, a writer from the Royal Court Young Writers' programme brings us his debut play, set in rural Shropshire and about how we cope with exceptional loss.

The setting is as close as theatre, or designer Cecile Tremolieres, can get to an English rural idyll, except it isn't that for its occupants, the players of our play. They are trapped in tragedy. Ben (Simon Scardifield) is determined to drown himself in the river were it not for the efforts of a stranger, Harry (Irfan Shamji). Harry intervenes and saves Ben. But of course no one can know why it is that Ben feels that his life isn't worth living. Well not yet. He says that he slipped. But Harry has been watching him and knows different.

Ben comes home to his daughter Louise (Evelyn Hoskins - a memorable Carrie at Southwark Playhouse in 2015). Louise is dressed in camouflage gear like a soldier but in preparing for a date she has borrowed a red sequined dress from her mother's wardrobe. It doesn't fit her but her father tells her she looks better than her mother in it. Louise's mother Cat (Niky Wardley) is on the phone to someone she calls Babe.

Each of the family, father, mother, sister deal with the loss of their son and brother in a different way. Harry too has had a loss when he and his father were deserted, but these people live in a country area which is losing its economy. We are told that Harry has been working at the pub which is to close. So he has lost his job and the village has lost its meeting place, its centre. The people in the village are getting older as young people leave for work elsewhere.

Harry and Loops find a connection after she is determined to find a boyfriend and go to climb a local hill with viewpoints over several counties. These scenes have a tenderness of connection as two people who are grieving and isolated start to appreciate each other's company. I was very impressed with all the fine acting performances. Simon Scardifield excels at the repressed, enclosed father and Niky Wardley plays a mother lost in grief who also feels she has lost her family. I especially liked Evelyn Hoskins as Louise, edgy, volatile and brittle and Irfan Shamji's Harry, so natural, nervous, anxious to please and likable, conveying a delicacy in an understated awkwardness that stays with me.

The author has used a quote from the German metaphysical philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer to introduce his text and to explain the inference of the Mayfly title. "Each day is little life: every waking and rising a little birth, every fresh morning a little youth, every going to rest and sleep a little death." The mayfly is born lives and dies in the course of a single day.

Each character reveals in Joe White's play their own secret grieving, one in denial, one in hopelessness, one in trying to fill the gap, one in never talking about it. It would be unfair to reveal these here but each has a powerful impact which make Mayfly well worth seeing.

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Written by Joe White
Directed by Guy Jones
Starring: Simon Scardifield, Irfan Shamji, Evelyn Hoskins, Niky Wardley
Design: Cecile Tremolieres
Composer and Sound Design: Jon Ouin
Lighting Design: Christopher Nairne
Movement: Jennifer Jackson
Running time: One hour 45 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 8940 3633
Booking to 26th May 2018
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 23rd April 2018 performance at the Orange Tree Theatre, 1 Clarence Street, Richmond TW9 2SA (Rail/Tube: Richmond)
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