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Narvik review at Home, Manchester – ‘a spellbinding tale of love and loss’

Nina Yndis, Lizzie Nunnery, Lucas Smith, Martin Heslop and Joe Shipman in Narvik at HOME, Manchester Photo: Alex Mead, Decoy Media
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When 90-year-old Liverpudlian ex-sailor Jim Callaghan slips on some concrete in his basement, a crack on the head releases dark recollections of a past Second World War Nordic naval campaign and an intense conflict-shattered romance with a young Norwegian, Else.

But deep Arctic waters run deeper still in Narvik, singer-songwriter Lizzie Nunnery’s moody multi-layered memory tale of love, loss and lonely survival, which enjoyed a successful season at Liverpool Playhouse Studio in 2015 and now embarks on a national tour with more or less the same cast, hopefully introducing Nunnery’s unique theatrical fusion of haunting music and poetic imagery to a wider audience.

With three musicians forming a ghost-like chorus, you watch spellbound as Nunnery’s sweeping saga unravels, time-traveling across pre-war Merseyside, Nazi-occupied Norway, freezing seas, below-decks tensions and the long-distance love affair between Jim and Else destroyed by the deadly business of war – and all subtly interwoven with a maritime mythology of mermaids and sea monsters.

Katie Scott’s set design – a combination of clanking metal pipe-work and oily claustrophobia – suggests the confined bowels of a war-ship edging close to Davy Jones’ Locker. And although Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder’s production works as an effortless ensemble piece, the entire narrative sinks or swims on Joe Shipman’s compelling pivotal performance as Jim, a once courageous young man now drowning in guilt. There’s some subtle male-bonding from Lucas Smith as his cynical ship-mate Kenny and sea-going father, although it’s Nina Yndis’ Else who finally conveys the terrifying reality of snatching a chance on love in a war zone.

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A spellbinding study of wartime lovers lost at sea