Valhalla Is Other People
This distinctly chilly two-hander, which jointly won the Theatre 503’s first Playwriting Award, revolves around the jagged relationship between a female doctor and a male geneticist. The sexes turn out to be quite important since this Woman and Man, as they’re obliquely referred to, come to stand in for either side of humanity as they unpick the ethics of modern science. She is warm yet vulnerable, while he is strong but lost in himself; then things shift, secrets are unearthed and the power dynamic flashes back and forth, sometimes accompanied by bursts of violence, sometimes by moments of horrible intimacy.
Paul Murphy’s concentrated battle of the sexes is gripping throughout, even when you aren’t quite sure what’s actually going on. There are elliptical references to the world beyond the couple’s apartment, which seems to be in the grip of a rising pandemic that has triggered chaos and disorder. Then when they relocate to a lab on a desolate Nordic island, they escape the immediate danger but their relationship only gets more claustrophobic and the staccato exchanges become stranger.
It’s an uncanny play that occasionally borders on horror, reminiscent at times of Lars Von Trier’s film Antichrist. A startling finale just about draws everything together — though what it all adds up to is not so easy to digest.
We should point out here that Murphy has valiantly stepped in at the last minute to play the part of the Man after the original lead actor withdrew. With script in hand, he doesn’t attempt to hide this fact, which is distracting at first but in a weird way does add a bit of appropriate Dogme styling to the proceedings. Murphy can certainly act and, along with the compelling Carolina Main, the two create an atmosphere charged with frosty shivers.
Valhalla runs at Theatre 503, above the Latchmere pub at 503 Battersea Park Road SW11 3BW, until 24 October. Tickets £15/12. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket.
Last Updated 05 October 2015