THREE into two will go when York Theatre Royal stages the world premiere of resident artist Gus Gowland’s musical Mayflies from April 28 to May 13.
Three actors, Nuno Queimado (May), Rumi Sutton (May/Fly) and Emma Thornett (Fly), will alternate the roles of May and Fly, with each pairing offering a different perspective on the relationships within this contemporary love story.
Not to be confused with Peter Mackie Burns’s 2022 television drama of the same name based on Andrew O’Hagan’s novel, Gowland’s Mayflies tracks the romantic relationship of May and Fly from first flourish to final goodbye.
After swiping right, left, up and down across the dating apps, they match, duly beginning a tentative conversation. Over time, their romance grows into something real, something special. Then they meet!
Award-winning composer, lyricist, songwriter and playwright Gowland’s musical explores the different versions of themselves that people become during relationships and how – in the blink of an eye – it can all come crashing down.
“I was really excited by the challenge of writing something that could be played by pretty much anyone, regardless of age, race, gender, sexuality,” says Gus.
“As an audience, we bring so much of ourselves and our understanding of the world to the things we see, so I wanted to explore what happens when we see the exact same love story told by different people – how would the dynamics change? Which moments would hit harder in each telling?
“I know how much an actor brings to a role too and so I wanted to create people that the actors cast would be able to really imbue with their own sense of identity. We’ve seen some rotating casts before, but I really wanted to write the flexibility of casting into the material, rather than just have it as a production idea layered on top.”
Gus adds: “It’s a real challenge to avoid signifiers of characteristics, like age and gender, but I’ve adored finding ways to create rounded specific characters without those to lean back on. One way I’ve done that is to write the parts in different time signatures, which makes them musically very distinct.
“I’m over the moon with the extraordinary cast of actors we have for this first ever production of Mayflies, and am so excited to see what they each bring to the characters.”
Portuguese-born Nuno Queimado played the alternate Alexander Hamilton in the London West End production of Hamilton and has starred in Jesus Christ Superstar too. Rumi Sutton’s credits include Hex and Heathers; Emma Thornett has appeared in War Horse and Bedknobs And Broomsticks.
Directing this trio in rehearsals from the first week of April will be Tania Azevedo, who specialises in developing new work. Resident director on & Juliet in the West End, earlier she received best director nominations in the Off-West End Awards and Broadway World Awards for her work on Turbine Theatre’s world premiere of But I’m A Cheerleader, based on the cult LGBTQ+ film. The show won best Off-West End production at the What’s On Stage Awards.
“When I first read Mayflies, one of the aspects of Gus’s work that immediately grabbed me was the flexibility with which May and Fly have been written,” says Tania. “It allows them to be played by any actor, regardless of age, gender or any other identifiers. This has led to a rich and thought-provoking casting process.
“It truly became about pairing actors and learning about their shared humour, approach to vulnerable conversations and chemistry with one another. Finding three actors who bring very different things to the table, and who have the craft to tackle this idea of ‘multiple configurations’, has been a joyous process and a unique approach to musical-theatre casting. We’re looking forward to making this piece with this incredible cast.”
Songs by Gowland, who lives in York, have been heard already on the Theatre Royal stage in showcases for professional York talent. For 2021’s Love Bites, he wrote a song for diarist Anne Lister (alias Gentleman Jack), performed by Dora Rubinstein, and for 2022’s Green Shoots, he used James Herriot quotes for I’ll Go T’Other, a song about the vet and his relationship with North Yorkshire, performed by Joe Douglass.
Before moving from London to York, Gowland enjoyed success with his first full-length musical Pieces Of String at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester, named The Stage’s Best Regional Musical of the Year in 2018 and nominated for the UK Theatre Best Musical Production award. He won The Stage Debut Award for Best Composer/Lyricist and was nominated for the inaugural Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Award for Best Musical Theatre Bookwriting.
Gowland has been commissioned previously by Theatre Royal Stratford East and has developed shows with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and Leeds Conservatoire.
In 2021, with Craig Mather, he wrote and released an EP of pop songs focusing on mental health, In Motion. His musical short Subway was produced by MPTheatricals that year.
His short musical Sick! was performed at LOST Theatre, London, and his short play Clocks & Teapots was performed at RADA Studios and the London Transport Museum.
Gowland was commissioned by Olivier Award-winning theatre collective Duckie to write songs for Copyright Christmas (Barbican, London). He co-wrote and directed Barren and Love Love Love, which toured to Canada, and wrote and performed the one-man musical Tell Me On A Thursday at the Camden Fringe.
Joining Azevedo in the production team will be designer TK Hay, whose hi-tech creativity was last seen on a North Yorkshire stage in Nick Payne’s intricate Constellations at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, last November. Past credits include Making Of A Monster for Wales Millennium Centre and The Apology for New Earth Theatre. Musical direction, arrangement and orchestration will be by Joseph Church.
York Theatre Royal presents Gus Gowland’s Mayflies, April 28 to May 13, 7.30pm, plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. For a video introduction to Mayflies, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXJ962JF2Rc&t=23s
Did you know?
IN 2014, Gus Gowland was on the UK Jury for the Eurovision Song Contest.