Narvik play review: Heart-breaking love story immersed in words and music

A tear-jerking story of ill-fated lovers whose destinies are ultimately changed by the Second World War flies high, sails far and breaks hearts with a seamless composition of song- and playwriting. Narvik, written by Lizzie Nunnery, lets the versatile talent build the characters and empathise with their experiences using sight, sound, and smartly, seamlessly stitched bits of the story.

narvik play review

They say that sometimes you can say more with music than you could tell others with just plain words – and maybe that explains why musicals have been on the rise recently. But when the story is emotionally super-charged already, can you imagine where it could take the audience? That’s certainly the case with Narvik, a play enrichened with songs from Lizzie Nunnery, Vidar Norheim and Martin Heslop. You can’t deny the impact of the story of star-crossed lovers: they’re happy together just to be torn apart by their circumstances.

A sailor Jim (Joe Shipman) meets Elsa (Nina Yndis) when he stops in Norway for a bit. The lovely Scouse lad quickly charms the Norwegian teacher – and as the summer goes by, they grow really close. But when the war strikes and he’s enlisted for the army, they seem to be talking to each other’s memories through the depths of the ocean. Initially convinced that they’ll never be alone even if the sea gets in the way, the feelings fade away like the foam on a tide.

The story that’s spoken is powerful already, with back-and-forth that intrigues us from the very beginning. Filled with emotive stories of childhood, the meaning of home, and the belief that a “happy ever after” is possible, it lets us see through the motives of the characters in the story and understand their past and present alike. When you add the songs – accompanied by live music performances – it becomes even more touching with the happiness and heartbreak it presents.

Joe Shipman travels in time, creating Jim’s younger and older self, switching in the matters of seconds – and being incredibly convincing as a little boy who loves the stories of the sea, a cheerful, optimistic young guy, and an elderly man living in his memories. Nina Yndis charms with her somewhat bohemian character who wants to live her life fully and “play around” for a little bit. Both of them play on the magnificent chemistry they create. There’s something dangerous and atmospheric in their first encounter, where they play some sort of hide-and-seek game – and it becomes a prophecy for them, searching for one another until the tables turn ultimately. Alongside them, Lucas Smith also switches between the characters (and the accents!) masterfully. His Kenny was changed by the coldness of the war, too: once changing the names and appearances in different areas of London, he now speaks bitterly of the bombing of the Lambeth arsenal that took away his father and his mother’s letters about it. Then, he’s also a storyteller for young Jim, with the tales of sirens and Vikings.

The realisation also strongly supports the play, and it’s a pleasure for sight and sound. The lights transform the stage, framed by the pipes that re-enact the ship as well as they change the scene into a street or dockyards. And it becomes a musical instrument, too, alongside the “real” instruments they create the music of the daily life that allows the smooth transition between the songs and the spoken lines.

Taking up the subject of war that tears the lives apart and changes possibilities into distant memories, Narvik shatters with performances that pack a punch. Juggling the spoken and sung performances as well as it maintains the flow of the events, it uncovers a whole new level of emotion in the story, immersed in love, fantasy, cruel reality, courage, fear, and betrayal.

Watch the play at the New Diorama Theatre until Saturday, the 25th of March. Tickets available here: http://newdiorama.com/whats-on/narvik

Kasia Kwasniewska

Editor in Chief

Passionate about far too many things. Loves reading, watching films, eyeing (and producing) good design, listening to music and stuffing her face with chocolate on a daily basis. Cooks from time to time, and drinks far too much coffee to be a normal human being .