Box of Trick’s Joint Artistic Director Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder talks to Frankly My Dear UK about NARVIK Tour
Following an acclaimed run at the Liverpool Playhouse Studio, Lizzie Nunnery’s NARVIK embarks on a national tour as part of Box of Tricks’ tenth anniversary season.
Ahead of its opening at Manchester’s HOME, Frankly My Dear UK’s Donna Kelly caught up with Box of Trick’s Joint Artistic Director Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder. Tyrrell-Pinder commissioned the project back in 2012 after collaborating with award-winning playwright Lizzie Nunnery on an installation performance piece at the Everyman festival. The pair quickly became friends but it was only when Tyrrell-Pinder went to watch Nunnery and her husband Vidar Norheim perform at a live music event that the idea for NARVIK started to take form.
“I’d long been interested in finding a way to merge music and text and then Lizzie came along” explains Tyrrell-Pinder.
“That Christmas, Lizzie and I had a coffee and I put to her the idea of writing a play where music was of equal importance to the text. She said she’d be thinking a lot about her grandad and the stories that he told her about his time in the Navy. We both got really excited during that initial coffee and then nearly three years later we actually managed to get it on stage.”
Set during the Second World War, NARVIK brings to life a powerful story of love, guilt, heroism and betrayal. It tells the story of a Jim, a 90-year-old man who, after suffering a fall at home, drifts through recollections of a naval campaign and a long-lost romance with Else, a beguilingly free-spirited schoolteacher from Oslo. The story was inspired by Nunnery’s late grandfather, who used to share reminiscences about serving in the Royal Navy’s little-chronicled Nordic campaign during World War II.
“When we were originally talking about it, it was going to be very autobiographical but then we moved totally away from that and created a totally fictional piece that was just inspired by facts” explains Tyrrell-Pinder.
“I know that aspects of the autobiographical elements added a little bit of pressure for her [Lizzie Nunnery] at points in the development of it while she was negotiating where the line between truth and fiction was going to fall… but once we made the decision that this was absolutely a fictionalised story, then we felt really comfortable because actually it felt very much like it was just inspired by her grandad and the excitement around those stories.”
What makes NARVIK so special is the way music and sound is used within the piece. The piece fuses live folk music and writing to create a patchwork of memory and dreams. In the original production, Nunnery and co-composers Vidar Norheim and Martin Heslop also donned ratings uniforms and engine room boiler suits to appear as part of the instrument-wielding Greek chorus, although Nunnery herself is not appearing in the touring production.
“Music is played virtually throughout the whole piece but it’s played using bits of the set” explains Tyrrell-Pinder.
“There are lots of different vocal sounds as well as the straight songs and the bits with the instruments. It kind of becomes a lot more complex and a lot more organic. What’s really lovely about it is that it does change ever so slightly, or it did when we did the first one, each night.”
It’s been over a year since the play first premiered at the Liverpool Playhouse Studio in September 2015 but the Manchester-based director is relishing the prospect of getting back under the skin of the project.
“When we rehearsed it the first time, it definitely was a challenge” explains Tyrrell-Pinder
“There was a point in rehearsals when I had to think about 17 things all at once but actually that is also what really appealed to me”
“What is lovely about having the opportunity to revisit the show and put it in front of an audience again is that I can delve deeper into that and do it better without worrying about it. That’s really exciting. I can kind of push myself and the actors further and ask more complex questions of them and get everyone to find that real level of detail and truth that really raises a performance from being good to being something special – that’s what I’m aiming for.”
While premise of the play remains unchanged, those who saw the original production in Liverpool in 2015 will notice a few subtle differences to the script and set.
“Lizzie has changed some bits and added some bits” explains Tyrrell-Pinder.
“We’ve got new musicians who are going to bring in different skillsets so the music is going to change slightly. We’ve got a new design so that is going to affect the staging of it but also some of the sound aspects as well.”
“Also just having a year from having done it the first time actually, the themes of the play and the characters just mellow and change. I think I’ll come into the room with some slightly different directorial thoughts because I’ve got a whole year’s worth of life from when I did it last time. We’re not the same people when we told it before so let’s see what we can discover this time.”
Yet despite the 17 month break between the initial run and the tour, Tyrrell-Pinder is not surprised that the play has been given a second lease of life.
“We kind of knew from the off that it should have a further life and actually the success of the initial run justified that belief on our parts” comments Tyrrell-Pinder.
“It felt like a bigger story and it felt like it deserves to be seen by more than the 800 an odd people who saw it in Liverpool.”
“Liverpool is very much a character within the show and the fact that Jim is pulled back to his home town of Liverpool is important within the play but actually the theme of going away from home and coming back works wherever you happen to be. Whether you have a scouse accent or not, the idea of war, bravery and sacrifice and what it is that makes young men and women feel the need to go far away from home to fight for something they believe in feels really relevant and something that translates to a variety of audiences.”
More importantly, Tyrrell-Pinder hopes the tour will attract a variety of new audiences, particularly live music fans who typically don’t attend the theatre.
“I kind of hope that we’ll get audiences in who are music lovers who come to take a risk on a piece of theatre because they love live music. Hopefully from their experience, they’ll think that coming to the theatre isn’t that different from going to a gig and there is still the same level of storytelling and engagement” explains Tyrrell-Pinder.
“But actually in terms of the story, my hope – which is my hope for every piece of theatre that I put on – is that people will look at it and look at the story and apply the experiences to their own life. It’s turning that fiction and story in on yourself and using that as a mirror to enrich your own experience”.
NARVIK opens at Manchester’s HOME on 31 January before embarking on a UK tour until 25 March 2017.