Valhalla by Paul Murphy at Theatre 503

This was our first time back at Theatre503 for almost two years, having been out of London for so long. The last thing we saw was Chris Urch’s ‘Land of Our Fathers’ a really good play on every level. ‘Valhalla’ represented a continuation of Theatre503′s interesting and quality work.

Valhalla was written and performed by Paul Murphy and was selected as a joint winner of the Theatre503 Playwriting Award. It focuses on the sexual politics of a couple who have moved to a remote nordic island after the spread of a devastating global disease. Our last theatre outing was Anthony Neilson’s ‘Stitching’, another play dealing with sexual politics, and although there were similarities, here the context was much more dramatic involving the spread of the disease, the rush to find a cure, the ethics involved in the testing, and the personal trauma faced by the woman during the outbreak.

Directed by Jo McInnes, who recently directed the successful ‘Vera Vera Vera’ at the Royal Court, she has created a tense atmosphere in which Paul Murphy’s text develops. Initially we are unclear about the chronology and circumstances of this couple. There seems to be trouble brewing under the surface for them. However, unlike Stu and Abby from Stitching, here they are struggling with external problems. Avoiding dialogue on central issues compounds the problems for this couple.

The small stage space created a claustrophobic atmosphere with an ice-coloured frame to the stage and matching door, in contrast to white elsewhere. The lockers and mirrors added a research facility feel to somewhere that was meant to be home, another demonstration of the way work had crept into this relationship. Katie Lias has done an excellent job here creating the physical world of the play.

Carolina Main and Paul Murphy play the man and women both showing a good range in their characters, dealing both with relationship issues and the problems of the world, and darker things linked to the supernatural and ethics of the man’s research. Our sympathies gradually favoured the woman and whether or not this was intended by Paul I don’t know. Indeed she talks of many of the problems of the world stemming from the activities of men.

Really good work as ever by Theatre503 and everyone involved in Valhalla, particularly Paul, for his exceptional dramatic debut. This really is one of the best small theatres in London consistently putting on interesting and impressive work. Valhalla closes at the end of this week so make sure you get down before then!

Dramatic Highlight of the play – undoubtedly the ending. The tension of the whole play built to three final scenes confronting us with some quite unexpected terror and overwhelming joy. A very dramatic juxtaposition of feelings for an audience to take in at the end of a play.

WIGS 4/5

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