Valhalla** (Theatre 503)

Posted: October 8, 2015 in Theatre

Valhalla Dress 2

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:

The title should not be allowed to deceive. Paul Murphy’s 75-minute play, joint winner of Theatre 503’s Playwriting Award for 2014, does not take place in a gigantic hall, rather in what looks like a white oblong box, filled only by a table, two chairs and a coat stand. The sterility of Katie Lias’ set design seems to become all the more fitting as the drama progresses. The play is a two-hander, the characters being named simply “Man” (Murphy himself) and “Woman” (Carolina Main). Both are doctors, he a researcher and they are in a long-term childless relationship. She is haunted by recent riots, he troubled by involvement in clinical trials for a new drug that could be going badly wrong and they decide to escape to a remote island to the far North of Europe. Murphy structures the play in scenes so short that he could have been aiming it at an audience with Attention Deficit Disorder. There is little warmth in the couple’s relationship, which is tense, often combative and their constant bickering eventually becomes irritating and repetitive. The writer gives us a good insight into what is tearing them apart, but very little feel of what is holding them together. Suggestions of unseen threats create tension. Other characters are spoken of, but are we to believe that they really exist? Is he a target for Animal Rights protesters? Does he have a brain tumour? Does she carry a faulty gene? Is she being candid with him about what happened to her in the riots? Is he telling her the truth about the consequences of the trials? In a way, the play is at its best when it is being enigmatic and this helps to open the door to discussions about the ethics of advances in medical science. It is less successful in connecting the issues that it raises to the personal lives of the characters, but it suggests that perhaps they know too much to make wise judgements in relation to themselves; perhaps, in the modern world, we all know too much. The final scene is the most enigmatic of all and springs the biggest surprise in Jo McInnes’ steady production. Served up with dashes of Norse mythology and the supernatural, Murphy packs in many (perhaps too many) interesting ideas without developing any of them very far. However, emotionally, his play is as icy as its Arctic setting.

Performance date: 7 October 2015


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