-by Coleman Grehan

(Photo credit:Rachel Roberts)

Smith’s Alternative
Tuesday and Friday March 18 and 21

Devised by Nathan Harrison and Jake Pember, The Mayfly Project is a delicate performance work with two showings at Smith’s Alternative as part of You Are Here. A combination of lecture, forum and theatrical storytelling, The Mayfly Project encourages audiences to think big about environmental sustainability and the ways to achieve it.

Harrison and Pember begin by introducing the character of Alex, a young mayfly who has just entered adulthood. Alex has a lifespan of 45 minutes. Harrison and Pember then introduce two clocks (the closest thing to a set that the performance has):

Clock #1: a projection of an analog clock is shown on the ceiling indicating the time.

Clock #2: a projection of the map of Canberra on the side wall that indicates the furthest you could travel using Canberra’s public transport in the time remaining during the production (which coincides with when Alex the mayfly will die). The area shrinks slowly as the minutes go by.

While the clocks are enchanting, they lose their appeal when audience members have to crane their necks to the ceiling and side wall every time they are referred to throughout the performance.

Staged with minimal lighting and sound, Harrison and Pember manage to craft a simple yet remarkable sensory experience. The audience are asked to close their eyes, count to a minute and then open them again. Harrison and Pember take us into a trance. This simple action skews all sense of time, with some audience members keeping their eyes closed until near the two minute mark.

The duo spend the next twenty minutes talking about time itself. They bring up examples such as John Cage’s As Slow as Possible and tell tales of other characters named Alex, this time human, each living lives of different lengths. Then, with 25 minutes remaining until Alex the mayfly retires to her death bed, the two put forward a thought-provoking question: “Are we being good ancestors?”

The performance lecture ends and Smith’s Alternative soon becomes a forum on sustainability. Deep philosophical thoughts pour out of the mouths of well-groomed girls and bearded hipsters, but those with softer voices go unheard over the operational sounds of the venue’s kitchen.

While the performance ended 20 minutes in, I was compelled to stay for the 45 minute life cycle of the mayfly, despite my personal disengagement from the forum.

In just under an hour, Harrison and Pember do well at creating a meditative space, skewing all sense of time to the best of their ability in a cosy and creative venue like Smith’s Alternative. If free didactic performance is your style, I recommend checking out The Mayfly Project at 8:30pm Friday 21 March before its Canberra life cycle comes to a close.


Coleman Grehan is a freelance theatre artist and music composer currently residing in Canberra, Australia. Born in Singapore and raised in Brisbane, he graduated from Queensland Academy for Creative Industries in 2012 and recently graduated from an internship with Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre in 2013. He currently is studying a Bachelor of International Relations/Bachelor of Arts at Australian National University. Coleman is currently devising a butoh/live-art piece entitled “HIM” to take up to Brisbane as part of Anywhere Theatre Festival 2014.


2 thoughts on “Review: The Mayfly Project

  1. Pingback: Post You Are Here | The Mayfly Project

  2. Pingback: You Are Here – Jake Pember

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