“This is a basement, a ship, an attic room, the coast of Norway, the Arctic…water is on the ground.” Thus goes the stage direction for the set of Lizzie Nunnery’s revisited ‘play with songs’, Narvik, and it usefully indicates the leaps of imagination that the play requires from its audience. But their concentration is rewarded with a moving meditation on love, guilt, memory and bravery.
Partly inspired by stories about wartime service in the Arctic that Nunnery heard from her grandfather late in his life, “as if he needed to get them out there”, it goes back and forth in time, opening with Liverpudlian Jim Callaghan (Joe Shipman) as an old man lying on the floor of a cellar after a fall. There he recalls his love affair with a young Norwegian woman Else Dahl (Nina Yndis) in Oslo before the Second World War. Then he was an idealistic young man, but the terrors and challenges of the conflict in which he’s soon to serve as a sailor alongside bluff Londoner Kenny Atwood (Lucas Smith) have a terrible effect.
“For years and years and years my grandfather never talked about the war,” says Nunnery. “Then, maybe in the last ten years of his life, every now and again, just out of the blue, he would tell you something incredible that had been put away for decades. Some of them were funny stories, good times he’d had, but I think the naval experience in the Arctic was very particular, often quite horrific.”
“It’s a version of World War Two that doesn’t necessarily gets looked at all that often,”, Nunnery adds. She is also is also a singer and songwriter, performing regularly with producer/composer Vidar Norheim. Along with folk singer Maz O’Connor (in a role originally taken by Nunnery herself) and musician Joe Hirons, Vidar appears in the play as a member of the band and, along with them, he is on stage throughout, representing the dead watching Jim, judging him.
Songs woven into the action lend a dreamlike and non-naturalistic feel to a powerful and profound play that makes a valuable statement about the realities of love and war.
Narvik is at HOME in Manchester until February 4, 2017, then tours until March 25 to venues including Theatre By The Lake, Keswick (February 8-9); York Theatre Royal (February 23); The Unity at the Bluecoat, Liverpool (February 27 to March 4); The Met, Bury (March 7-8); The Carriageworks, Leeds (March 9); and Harrogate Theatre (March 14-18).