Review: Danelaw, Old Red Lion Theatre

Many contemporary plays centre on current social and political affairs – few do it with the same level of intelligent humour as Danelaw, a play which is attentive to its subtext whilst remaining thoroughly entertaining. 

Danelaw is a story of the far right, in which we follow Cliff, a convict turned Neo-Nazi group leader who wants to create a Viking, whites only state. The script has been updated since its first production in 2005, with certain re-writes attempting to more acutely reflect the current dynamics of world politics. 

Peter Hamilton’s writing is a tale of two halves: the first is superb, the second falls behind a little. The style itself is witty and charismatic; the characters all possess highly engaging personalities and the authorial commentary is interwoven gracefully. For a play which is mad and chaotic, the script acts as an assured tour guide through these winding streets of story and dialogue. The path arrives at a rockier terrain in the second half, with the structure becoming slightly disjointed. It doesn’t affect my enjoyment of the piece overall, but it makes me quizzical as to how such a self-assured beginning can be followed by a somewhat shaky end. 

The acting can be summarised pretty succinctly – exquisite. This ensemble is strong, and I mean biblically strong; I find myself going to spotlight the best of the bunch and ending up listing over half of the cast. They take the balance of humour and horror from this script and perform it with enough control for it to feel realistic, but with an adventurous energy which gets them over any of the script’s speedbumps. 

Dan Maclane as Cliff sprints up and down his emotional range with no relent in conviction, his cellmate-cum-comrade Paul is performed by Bradley Crees with outstanding comedic timing and Will Henry brings a vulnerability which is our constant reminder of the severity of his companion’s actions. Even though three are named, every single member deserves praise of the highest level. 

The design is complementary to the themes whilst remaining realistic logistically. The set constructed by Gary Anderson is the perfect tool for the cast to jump between several locations without losing clarity. This intention is backed up by the music and sound effects from Hamish Tate and Natan K which pinpoint locations and bring an ominous drama when appropriate. Credit to Ken McClymont for directing a succinct and clear piece despite multiple script location changes and a double figure cast, all in the confines of a fringe venue- I am never able to become lost and I’m sure this is due to a good captain at the helm. 

“Education is the only hope for people like us” – a pretty accurate representation of this play’s satirical comedy. It understands the uses of comedy to engage the audience and the need for a certain amount of threat to root it. As a piece of theatre Danelaw is highly entertaining, and as a piece of writing it is evidently intelligent.

Danelaw played the Old Red Lion Theatre until 5 October. For more information, visit the Old Red Lion Theatre website.