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Nivelli’s War review at Lyric Theatre, Belfast – ‘full of wonder’

Nivelli's War at Lyric Theatre, Belfast
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Memories, real and imagined, provide the road map for this reflective, multi-faceted play about the way in which friendship and generosity can flourish even in the bleakest of times. Based on the true story of a Jewish man called Herbert Levin, who owned a magic shop in Frankfurt, the narrative begins and ends with Dan Gordon’s dignified old magician Nivelli recalling his experience of evacuation and displacement.

Cahoots NI’s timely, sharply etched revival works effectively on several levels, making a deep impression on adults and children alike.

Director Paul Bosco McEneaney and the creative team have mined new depths in Charles Way’s lyrical script, which sensitively explores the dark recesses of persecution and enforced deportation at the latter end of the Second World War. The scene of the hunted ‘fox’ in the vegetable patch is particularly powerful. Sabine Dargent’s sombre ash-coloured design palette is threaded with brilliant flashes of scarlet through swirling mists, evoking Nazi iconography and hidden terrors lurking in wait for hapless victims.

Alongside Bob Kelly’s physically expressive Mr H, Jack Archer is an engaging, bright-faced Ernst, together creating the poignant image of a boy and an old man dragging themselves across a war-ravaged land in search of home. And there is wonder too.

Along the way, their various encounters are recalled in bright colours and with heightened sensibility.  As Garth McConaghie’s haunting score reaches a crescendo, the elderly Nivelli looks back ruefully on a dazzling career and the kindness of the man who gave him not only a means of survival but the precious gift of life itself.


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Thought-provoking family drama that works its magic through music, illusion and visual effects