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Valhalla Assistant Director’s Diary: What makes a play stand out from 1600 submissions?

September 9th, 2015

Joint-winner of the Theatre503 Playwriting Award, Valhalla by Paul Murphy began rehearsals this week. In this blog post Assistant Director Tom Latter discusses his involvement with the play, going back to the very beginning…

I first read Valhalla towards the beginning of the selection process for the Theatre503 Playwriting Award. We were several weeks in and though I was thoroughly loving the task ahead, the novelty of reading several plays a day had started to rub off. All the plays had something in them: an interesting premise, some nice dialogue, a certain style or approach, but I had yet to read a stand-out piece of work. I remember my first impressions of Valhalla very well because I was so off the mark – “title a bit pretentious?”; “two unnamed characters, a bit lazy perhaps”; “100 pages of sparse dialogue, could be a tough read” etc… Such unfair thoughts gradually shifted to “this could be quite good actually”, through “there’s more going on here than I thought” and finally “wow, this is brilliant”.


And it really is. It has a seemingly simple premise – a couple arguing over their past, present and future – but beneath the surface there are deeper ideas at work. How far can you go to save a person? Is there a limit to what love can conquer? Can you really trust even those closest to you? And can you recover if the very fabric of your being, your DNA, your humanity, was pushed, stretched, smashed to pieces?

Part of the play’s brilliance is that it won’t be for everyone. I championed this play all the way through and met many like-minded readers who loved it too, but we could also see the risks. For such a visionary piece, it is also vicious and uncompromising. It is complex and dark, has a singular style and presents an unflinching view of human nature that some may find difficult to witness.


Perhaps this is what made it stand out from the crowd of 1600 scripts – it is unconventional but totally honest. A similarity it shares with Theatre503, a venue not afraid to take risks on the new and unfamiliar. We are about to go into rehearsals and even we don’t know where we will be in 3 weeks time. It’s an exciting place to be, not knowing exactly what will happen next. But if you come to see it I can promise you this: expect to be moved, expect to think deeply, expect to have moral certainties challenged and ideas about theatre upended. I don’t expect you will all like it. All I’d say is you have to see it for yourself.


Valhalla plays at Theate503 from 30th September to 24th October. Tickets are £15, or £12 with concessions, and can be purchased here.