Review: Danelaw

3 star rating
Comic and unsettling, this play provokes us to consider the strategy for dealing with threats from right-wing extremists, but fails to clearly identify its own standpoint.
Danelaw at Old Red Lion Theatre

Poster image by Susie Hamilton

Closes here: Saturday 5 October 2019

Peter Hamilton

Hamish Tate. Natan K

Ken McClymont


Dan Maclane - Cliff

Bradley Crees - Paul

Marcus Kinsella - Rutger

Craig Crosbie - Warboys

Will Henry - Jason

Marcel Hagen - Klaus

Richard Fish - Graham

Evelyn Craven - Tara

Josie Ayers - Rowena

Emma Stannard - Odburga

Tomi Jatto - Dr Anastasia Gabriel


A grisly tale of British Neo-Nazis …

Cliff, a racist football thug, is serving five years in prison for assaulting an Asian man at a Millwall game when he is visited by the mysterious Mr. Warboys, who offers him the chance to re-establish the DANELAW - the Golden Age of Viking rule.

And so begins a darkly-comic tragedy of violence and death …


DANELAW is based on the true story of an attempt by the neo-Nazi group COMBAT 18 to establish a white supremacist homeland in East Anglia in the 1980s, with Chelmsford as the capital.

This failed, however, when the party's accountant absconded with all the party funds and was subsequently pursued and stabbed to death by "Charlie" Sergeant, the leader of COMBAT 18, in a caravan park in Harlow.

These events were reported in the anti-Fascist magazine SEARCHLIGHT which also contained, around the same time, reports of the Security Services mounting so-called "honey-trap" operations, whereby they advertised for recruits to new but completely bogus far-Right groups, so that they could keep an eye on anybody who applied as Persons Of Interest.

The play takes this device a logical stage further where the Secret Service advertises a whites-only homeland based on the ancient Viking Danelaw of the 9th and 10th centuries, with the promise to train up any applicants into a private army at a secret military base in Norfolk.

When their training is complete they will start attacking mosques and so on, with the intention of starting an all-out race war, and subsequently establishing the ancient Danelaw again, stretching from the River Lea in Bow, East London, up to the River Humber.

The plan is then to arrest them all at the last minute and incarcerate them in Belmarsh for thirty years.

But it doesn't quite work out according to plan …

ActDrop reviews

Peter Brown

Performance date: Saturday 21 September 2019
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Inspired by real, almost surreal events, Peter Hamilton's play largely focuses on the dispossessed and disaffected who are easily duped by the lure of power to join an insidious kind of revolution - one with shockingly extreme and violent ambitions.

Languishing in a prison cell is Cliff, a violent and racist thug.

One day the suave, smooth-talking and mysterious Mr Warboys fetches up at the prison with an offer to put to Cliff.

Mr Warboys and some of his "chums" are able to get the offender out of prison and finance him to become leader of a group that will create a whites only state within England, reestablishing the ancient Viking area called the Danelaw.

Cliff is easily persuaded to accept and then assumes the name of Olaf to cement his Viking credentials and heritage.

Meanwhile, we find Mr Warboys busy scuttling back and forth between members of Cliff's family - his immensely naive younger brother Jason and his common-law wife Rowena.

Once Warboys has managed to get Olaf and his fellow cell-mates released from prison, things take an even more sinister turn as Olaf, now sporting an outrageously large fur coat, signs-up some very nasty and extremely violent recruits from abroad.

There are several aspects to Peter Hamilton's uncomfortable and unsettling, and rather comic play.

First off, we're invited to consider - and be revolted by - the machinations of violent, racists thugs who are most certainly a threat to public order and unity.

But we also find these villains being manipulated by a government 'agent', Mr Warboys.

Though we never actually know just what his job really is, he is certainly an agent provocateur and seems, from his accent and demeanour, to be a paid-up member of what still holds to be the 'upper class'.

Juxtaposing the intolerable views and plans of Olaf's gang is a seam of comedy, some of which has echoes of Joe Orton's writing style where we laugh in spite of the serious aspects of the unfolding plot.

Director Ken McClymont keeps a generally firm grip on proceedings given the sizeable cast to orchestrate, and sets a brisk pace with some entertaining moments in spite of the more serious elements.

Craig Crosbie's elegantly effortless portrayal as Mr Warboys delivers a good deal of the humour in a running joke that found ample favour with the audience (who increasingly anticipated his upcoming lines).

But less satisfactory is the babyish naivety in the depiction of Cliff's brother, Jason, which seems forced on actor Will Henry through both the writing and direction.

Even if we need to see that Jason is naive, mouldable and compliant, his character, especially in his initial scenes, appears ridiculously odd.

What, though, are we to make of Danelaw as a whole and what is it trying to tell us?

Is it pointing to a continued threat from right-wing extremists and the need for constant vigilance and action to block their activities?

Are we happy for shadowy government agents to be involved in instigating violent insurrection, even if in doing so they remove potential threats to our social fabric and democracy?

Is the play trying to say that the interaction between government agents and extremists is madness bordering on farce?

Danelaw doesn't make clear just where it actually stands on these matters.

And other issues also surface, especially in the somewhat lame post-bloodbath ending, muddying and complicating the tenor of the piece.

But my best guess is that Peter Hamilton aims to poke us in the ribs to remind us that threats from unsavoury right-wing insurgents continue to exist, provoking us to decide what strategy to adopt to guard against their vile and violent philosophy.

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