HOME, Manchester – until 4 February 2017
Guest reviewer: Megan Hyland
In Narvik, Lizzie Nunnery has written a beautifully harrowing production, produced by Manchester-based theatre company Box of Tricks. The play – described by Nunnery as “a play with songs” – opens with 90-year-old Jim Callaghan suffering a fall in his home, and tells the story of what led him there. Flashback to World War Two, and Jim, a Liverpudlian fisherman docks in Oslo, where he meets the charming Else. Their story unfolds as Jim goes away to work as a radio operator on a Navy ship, and through the struggles of war and the horrors that he sees; the one thing that keeps him going is his memories of Else. His journey to get back to her is as captivating as it is tragic.
Joe Shipman stars as the buoyant and pragmatic Jim, giving an utterly outstanding performance. He displays faultless range, showing both the excitement of Jim’s youth and the fear felt in his old age. We see Jim falling in love, going to war and gripped by horrifying memories, which Shipman carries through seamlessly, giving an honest and powerful performance. But perhaps the core element in the play’s success in telling such an engaging story is the dynamics of the cast. Starring alongside Shipman is Nina Yndis as the endearing Else and Lucas Smith as Kenny, Jim’s closest friend on the ship. Yndis and Shipman captivate the audience with the sincere and youthful love story of Else and Jim, and the intense bond between Kenny and Jim is due to the humour and chemistry between Shipman and Smith.
However, a large part of Narvik’s charm and haunting poignancy is the music, also written by Lizzie Nunnery. The bittersweet romance between Else and Jim is truly felt through the enchanting lyrics and the voices of the cast, with one of the most beautiful vocal performances coming from band member, Maz O’Connor.
Director Hannah Tyrell-Pinder has created a simplistic but truthful production, in which the talents of the cast are allowed to excel without overshadowing Nunnery’s spectacular writing and songs. Also noteworthy is the innovative use of lighting (Richard Owen) and sound, used to create a sense of time and place in a tasteful way that didn’t distract from the touching performance.
Narvik is a compelling and moving production of a love tested by war and a friendship tested by love. It is unpredictable in its narrative and overwhelming in its heart, and overall is utterly unmissable.