Valhalla is the hall of the fallen. Norse god Odin was said to house the warriors he deemed worthy within it. It is the place where those killed in battle would go, to join together and feast.
Paul Murphy’s new play is set inside a remote Nordic research facility, a suitably stark backdrop for an often volcanic piece of writing. A man and a woman, husband and wife, seek refuge from the violence sweeping their city. She is a doctor battling PTSD, he is a genetic researcher on the brink of finding a cure for the flu pandemic which has devastated the country. Safe behind closed doors they endeavour to make sense of what has happened to them and their world. The play poses questions about the ethics of medical science but it’s also about the nature of marriage, about love and sex.
Murphy’s full length professional debut is the joint winner of the Theatre503 Playwriting Award. His writing is sharp and precise; he has created a world that elegantly fuses fable and fact, mythology and medicine. “I wanted to use the subject of genetic research to explore the question of what makes us who we are, on both the genetic level and the individual level,” he explains. “I’m attracted to challenging pieces of work that ask important questions whilst retaining an emotional rawness. The play provides no answers but I hope it will provoke plenty of question’
Following the departure of Clint Dyer, Murphy also performs, stepping in last minute. Despite this is performance is a strong one and Carolina Main is brilliant alongside him, a perfectly pitched performance, raw and uncomfortable, a balance of vulnerability and bravery. The character she plays is both engaging and perplexing. Murphy’s writing is ambiguous at times, but Main’s performance keeps us connected to the heart in this play.
The minimal white set, sparingly designed Kate Lias, with just a white desk, two white chairs and a white locker, creates a cool clinical atmosphere frosty without pulling any focus from the dialogue. Video designers Dominic Baker and Oliver Levett flood the back wall of the stage with words at the beginning of each act, words pulled from Norse mythology and laden with subtext ‘Midgard’, ‘Helgafjell’, ‘Nastrond’ and ‘Yggdrasil.’ Jo McInnes’s direction maintains clarity in a play where the asking of questions are key.
The tension that runs through the piece swells and intensifies as the final scenes approach, as the couple’s crumbling relationship comes to mirror the destruction surrounding them. This is a searching, unsettling new play, crammed full of questions, another strong piece of programming by Thatre503.