Danelaw

Peter Hamilton
Clockschool Theatre Company
Old Red Lion Theatre
to

A mysterious elderly gentleman with an old-boy swagger appears in the gaol cell of notoriously violent racist Cliff, promising him early release and a bag full of cash in exchange for leading a race war in England.

The idea, based loosely around a true occurrence in the '90s, is dark and intriguing. The dapper Mr Warboys (Craig Crosbie) claims to believe in the supremacy of Viking blood (which Cliff proves he has, with his claw hand and bent genitalia) and sells Cliff (Dan Maclane) on the dream of taking it back to the Viking ways, renaming England 'Danelaw' and making Chelmsford the capital.

Unfortunately, the play hits its peak after setting up the premise and thereafter gets very lost. There’s a fairly satisfactory twist but it doesn’t really play out. I might go so far as to say this would work better as an hour-long left open-ended, because the first half did actually seem to set us up for a good time, but by the end of the second half, had I not taken notes I might very easily have forgotten that.

There are some excellent character developments, as directed by Ken Mcclymont: Evelyn Craven’s Helen, a sheltered teen with a desperate desire to be worldly and gritty, is brilliantly irritating. Maclane’s Cliff is laughably ridiculous and genuinely threatening in equal measure, which makes him all the more concerning. Bradley Crees is perhaps the star of the show, his slow and considered speech conveying both psychopathic tendencies and boyish charm.

But the plot being what it is, with promises of real peril, high stakes and trigger warnings for days, there is a serious lack of blood and guts and high tension, replaced instead by what looks like play-fighting and a lot of narrative trailing off.

With an excellent cast and an interesting premise, Danelaw certainly has the potential to be a brilliant piece of theatre, but first writer Peter Hamilton must kill his darlings and lop off the second half or at least rewrite it.

Reviewer: Miriam Sallon