“When it comes to pain and fear and love, we are a breed apart”
Hmm, a difficult one this. Due to the very very late withdrawal of Clint Dyer from the show, Theatre503’s Valhalla opened to critics with the playwright Paul Murphy stepping into the role, understandably performing script in hand. But whilst the ‘show must go on’ ethos is admirable, there’s no denying that forging on ahead in this manner does Jo McInnes’ production little favour, fatally unbalancing it for the moment whilst offering frustrating hints of what might have been and what might yet still be once Murphy is able to settle into the part.
It doesn’t help that I found the play, from first-time writer Murphy, difficult. Valhalla did win the 2014 Theatre503 Playwriting Award from over 1600 other submissions but its gnomic, over-saturated nature is challenging. Explorations of eugenics and genetic testing rub shoulders with hints of Nordic folklore and witchcraft as a couple flee riots in the UK for the isolation of a Scandinavian research facility where they’re on the cusp of finding a cure for a global pandemic (what a time to be alive…). But this scientific advancement comes at personal cost, the terms of which the couple thrash out.
So much is left vague and unnamed that it is hard to ever really buy into any of the conceits of the play, a crucial lack of credibility in either arena of love or science undermines it all. There’s little effective acting that can be done in a two-hander when one party is still firmly on book and so the spark that might have ignited writing that seems flat never came.
That said, Carolina Main (as Woman) is a powerfully intriguing presence that suggests there might be something there, that McInnes might have located the way into Valhalla (aided by Katie Lias’ clinically cool design and the icy edginess of Nigel Edward’s lighting), something this production could have done with taking a couple of days off to find again before letting the public in.