Something has happened to television drama over the last twenty-five years, there's definitely been a dumbing down in the way productions are presented. Everything from soap operas to crime series and costume dramas, appear more and more, to be written to a formula, because, presumably this guarantees good ratings. Someone has obviously decided viewers like stories they can flop out on the sofa and watch for fifty minutes without having to think too hard, without developing a personal relationship with protagonists as layers are tantilizingly revealed over a period of time. So those of us who love to dive into contemporary productions that have depth and emotion and twists and turns, compelling us to keep watching while aching for that climactic conclusion, rarely get a feast as satisfying as "Mayday".
At a surface level, this is the story of the disappearance of beautiful, young Hattie Sutton, due to have been crowned May Queen as part of the local community's pagan parade. But right from the opening scenes, something feels strange, eerie, reminiscent perhaps of those spooky dramas from the 70s, "The Wicker Man" or those bizarre "Thriller" episodes where creepy things happen in remote villages made up of people who share a very limited gene pool. In other ways, it's a very contemporary setting and the contrast between these two elements becomes intriguing, like a community operating on two different levels. Brilliant direction, camera work and score all contribute to this sense of something faintly supernatural, but it's cleverly done, so that we always have one foot very much in the reality of these people's lives. Like all good thrillers, the suspense is emerging largely from the paranoid corners of our own minds, and that's what makes it so personal, we're investing something of ourselves in these characters and their own personal stories.
The wonderful direction (Brian Welsh) is equally matched by great casting, with many exceptional performances, including Tom Fisher, as Seth, the reclusive, druid-like character who lives in the woods, and Sam Spruell, as Steve, his somewhat ambivalent carer and brother, and self-appointed leader of the search party looking for Hattie. Lesley Manville, delivers a powerful portrayal of Gail Spicer which takes us through a whole journey of complex emotions, and young actors Leila Mimmack and Max Fowler are remarkably compelling as indie-goth-chick Caitlin and Linus, the loner boy next door, who oozes kudos and from the outset seems wise beyond his years. All give award worthy performances. Acting is at its best, I always think, when a peformer can tap into some aspect of a dark character's psyche which the audience will connect with and feel some level of empathy for, and this is achieved in abundance, by the cast of "Mayday". Each character has a shadow side which leaves us slightly suspicious of them and what they might be capable of, but we also develop compassion for them along the way, as their vulnerable side becomes gradually revealed to us.
The story reaches a thrilling conclusion, which has us guessing right up to the end, and there is the smallest chink of light through a crack in the door, which has the potential to lead to a second series many will be hoping for, because "Mayday" is such a beautifully produced, genuinely original drama.