Valhalla. Such an evocative word. It conjures images of roistering, fur clad, bearded gods and large women in be-winged helmets, swigging from horns and banging on long, wooden tables in the flickering candlelight.
Katie Lias’ set, ice cold, stark and functional, could not be further from these warm and hedonistic imaginings. Together with Nigel Edwards’ lighting it feels sterile and impersonal, perfectly complementing the staccato, clinical interactions between the husband and wife who are the play’s protagonists. He is a scientist, engaged in the search for a cure for an epidemic which is sweeping the world. She is a GP, on indefinite leave following a recent trauma. In an attempt to escape the violence sweeping the city, they decide to seek refuge in a remote Nordic research facility. Once there, however, the differences between them become ever more evident and problematic. In their mutual search for salvation he is looking to the future, to science, always pushing further ahead, whereas she is retreating to the comfort of the old gods, to the beginning of life, to the original song of the earth. Man and Woman are no longer united; they are uneasy allies, then rivals, then finally enemies.
Each scene of the play is shocking in some way, but as the violence of both language and action builds, the abrupt endings, where the lights simply die, begin to feel like a physical blow. By the end the nerves are stretched to screaming point, making the horrific final implosion even more devastating.
The acting is extremely strong. Man is clearly trying desperately to cling on to the physical, the rational, the real, while all around him is falling apart, and Woman is a shuddering mess of emotions and atavistic desires. The interaction between them is real and tangible; an extraordinary feat considering writer Paul Murphy had to step into the role himself at extremely short notice, which must have been incredibly unsettling for everybody concerned, not least Carolina Main as Woman. The fact that the two of them managed to maintain such a high level of intimacy and tension in such trying circumstances is nothing short of amazing.
Murphy’s writing is extremely clever and beautifully subtle; nothing is ever underlined, and the audience is encouraged to draw their own conclusions. Unfortunately this deliberate obscurity, coupled with the gnomic conversations, occasionally leads to confusion, incomprehension, and important points being missed. There are a myriad of weighty themes crying out for further exploration during the 80 minute play, yet we are jerked ruthlessly from one to the next without being given time to digest, or even fully understand, what has just happened. Nevertheless, Valhalla is a deeply thought provoking, intelligent and powerful play. A beautiful piece of work.
Review by Genni Trickett
Theatre503 in association with Sheer Drop Theatre present…
by Paul Murphy
You know the words but when it comes to pain and fear and love we are a breed apart.’
As violence sweeps the city, an exhausted couple seek refuge in an isolated Nordic research centre. They are on the brink of discovering the cure for a devastating global disease when cracks in their marriage start to appear. Suddenly they find themselves forced to choose between conflicting allegiances to love and science.
Conceived against the backdrop of a bewitching volcanic landscape, this extraordinary play questions the ethics of medical research, genetics and the endurance of human love.
503 Battersea Park Road
London SW11 3BW
30 Sep – 24 October 7.45pm (Sundays 5pm)
Sunday 4th October 2015