Valhalla is Paul Murphy’s full-length professional debut. The drama won Theatre 503’s inaugural Playwriting Award this year and it certainly leaves a lasting impression on its audience. The drama rises from an apocalyptic backdrop; a deadly virus has consumed the city. Husband: a research scientist (Paul Murphy) and wife: a traumatised GP (Carolina Main) relocate to a remote Nordic village in his search for finding a cure and her endeavours to capture some peace and quiet. Parallels with Kubrick’s The Shining swiftly appear as cracks begin to spread in their isolated domesticity when the harsh and inhibiting winter approaches.
If staging your professional theatrical debut is stressful enough, spare a thought for Paul Murphy. His leading man withdrew from the production the night before press night, leaving Murphy with little choice but to step into the role. On stage Murphy reads from the script, but this is done fairly subtly, disguising it as the husband’s research notes. Murphy storms into the role and produces a credible performance alongside the lively Carolina Main.
Valhalla is an ambitious production, which consistently serves up parallels between the old and modern world. The wife has clearly been traumatised by the riots, which ensued in the city after the outbreak of the virus; drunkenly she reels ‘The worst thing about gang-rape is trying to get the come stains out of your dress’. This line is certainly Valhalla’s darkest and funniest. If anything the play could do with a touch more comedy to enhance its tension. The wife finds solace in the values of the old world- Nordic mythology and a fascination with witchcraft. Initially these values are polarised against her husband’s faith in modern scientific research; he searches for a cure tracing epigenetic theory and trawls through page after page of complex code. Gradually these two ideologies are entwined and the disparity between the two is meshed over.
Valhalla’s climax is a little rushed. With a running time of eighty minutes, it could afford to be fleshed out some more. After the intricately welding conflicting forces in the play together we arrive too hastily at a revelatory climax. Prior to the climax, the drama had relied on a clinical subtlety, which was reflected in the wonderful use of space and sound; credit to Kate Lias (Designer), Nigel Edwards (Lighting Designer) and Becky Smith (Sound Designer) whose collective work produces a powerful effect. I feel that perhaps in the space of a further ten or fifteen minutes, the drama could have unfolded into its climax with greater intensity. Nevertheless, Paul Murphy is certainly a name to keep an eye out for after his sparkling if not somewhat turbulent debut. An interesting production which seems like a captivating twenty-first century continuation of the role of the subversive witch figure in literature- Sylvia Townsend-Warner fans should head down to the Theatre 503 before the 24th October.