Manchester Theatre Awards

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Home Thoughts From The Sea

Inspired by stories of her grandfather’s time in the Navy during World War Two and other tales from naval veterans, Narvik, the new play with songs produced by Manchester-based theatre company Box of Tricks, is written by the award winning Liverpool-based playwright and songwriter, Lizzie Nunnery.

There are a whole host of projects due this year from Lizzie, including a new work inspired by the influential poetry collection 'The Mersey Sound', and specifically poet Adrian Henri, but first off the stocks is Narvik, which premieres at HOME. It’s a World War II-set story of love, guilt, heroism and betrayal as a Liverpudlian man and a Norwegian woman are pulled together and torn apart by war.

“The starting point for it was the director Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder asking me if I had any ideas for a play with music as she was interested in me performing in a play that I’d written. We got talking about my grandfather’s stories of being in the Navy in World War Two,” Lizzie explains.

“For years and years and years he never talked about the war, then, maybe in the last ten years of his life, he started to talk about it. Every now and again, just out of the blue, he would tell you something incredible or something quite horrific that had been put away for decades. It was almost as if at that stage of his life he felt the need to repeat these things and make sure that they were known. Some of them were funny stories, good times he’d had, but I think the naval experience he had was very particular, especially for those people who were in the Arctic.

“It’s a version of World War Two that doesn’t necessarily gets looked at all that often,” points out Lizzie, who is also a singer and songwriter, performing regularly with producer/composer Vidar Norheim. Their full-length releases include Company of Ghosts and Black Hound Howling, and a splendidly-titled EP Songs of Drink and Revolution. She was one of the writers of the Liverpool Everyman production Unprotected which was awarded the Amnesty International Award for Freedom of Expression, while her full-length play The Swallowing Dark reopened the Liverpool Playhouse Studio. She has worked with Druid, Slung Low, The Gate, Trestle, Paines Plough and Cardboard Citizens, with current commissions including a new play for the Royal Exchange Studio, as well as the Liverpool Everyman and The National Theatre.

“We started the journey with a ten minute play in 2013 at the Everyword Festival in Liverpool,” she remembers. “The script and music were written within a week and at that point we knew our central character Jim, we knew it was a play about the disruption of war and memory, we knew it was on some level a romance. Beyond that we wanted to tell a story about Norway and about the Arctic, an unconventional journey through World War Two. The ten-minute version also made it clear that the use of songs and soundtrack helped to create an intriguing non-naturalistic world, allowing the story to be told through the prism of memory while remaining very live and spontaneous."

“Hannah and I started with my Grandfather’s stories but then we read an awful lot of other real accounts and gathered a lot of other information together. What we’ve ended up with is totally fictionalized, but draws on real events and experiences in these other men’s lives.

“So hopefully it will be quite authentic. For me the sea is such a great metaphor and I love the idea of being able to write about memory and about conflict using that metaphor.

“Actually I think that nearly all theatre that works is about the difficulty of human connection and there’s always that lovely metaphor in theatre that there’s a gap between the audience and the stage or the audience and the performer and we’re trying to bridge that gap. Therefore when it works, it reflects what we’re all trying to do in our lives, to reach out and connect with each other, often, failing. So, I kind of wanted to use the metaphor of the sea in that way. “It’s about this man Jim who falls in love but who also has this separate friendship during the war and how those relationships were distorted and how difficult they became under the pressure of war. The sea is this image that represents that gap.”

*Narvik is at HOME Manchester until February 4th, then tours until March 25th to venues including Theatre By The Lake, Keswick (February 8th-9th); and The Met, Bury (March 7th-8th).

*Although Lizzie's other commitments mean she won't be performing her own songs live on the tour, she will be performing music from Narvik and her previous albums alongside collaborators Martin Heslop and Vidar Norheim in the ground floor bar at HOME after the show on Wednesday February 1st.

Kevin Bourke