Lizzie Nunnery on the World War Two play, Narvik

Lizzie Nunnery

Lizzie Nunnery - Credit: Archant

Playwright discuss production based on her Grandfather’s experiences during World War Two

Narvik is a town situated in the Northern reaches of Norway, close to the Arctic Circle. It was the setting of a decisive victory for Britain over the Germans during the early part of World War Two. It is also the name of a new play written by playwright and singer/songwriter, Lizzie Nunnery.

“I started talking to my Grandfather about his experiences during World War Two,” Lizzie begins. “He was part of the arctic convoys based in Norway and further up the arctic. It was only when I began talking to director Hannah Tyrell-Pinder that it struck us both that it was quite an unusual version of World War Two which people don’t really think of when they picture the war.”

The play is a collaboration between Lizzie and the Manchester based theatre company, Box of Tricks in which Hannah Tyrell-Pinder is the co-founder. “I’ve worked with Hannah on some other projects in the past. About 4 years ago she directed a short piece which I wrote that featured in the Every Word Festival that the Liverpool Everyman run. We started talking about other projects and it was Hannah’s idea to work on a play that threaded music throughout. A piece of theatre that didn’t just present a scene and then a song, but presented a live soundtrack that would use music in really creative ways which has musicians on stage throughout as part of the cast.” It was at that point that Lizzie spoke to Hannah about the conversations she had with her Grandfather. “My Grandfather was in Norway at the end of the war and talked a lot about being in Oslo and also about being on the convoys that brought the Crown Prince back to Norway after the war. He had a mix of difficult and violent memories of war, but also quite glorious memories when he felt really purposeful and like he was on the right side. For myself and Hannah it was the contrast that fascinated us and that inspired the play.”

Lizzie Nunnery is a woman of many talents. Not only is she a playwright, but she is also a singer/songwriter as well. “It was the song writing that came first,” Lizzie recalls. “I started writing songs when I was a teenager and then I began performing at song writing events in Liverpool when I was 17. I then went to university and wrote my first play which was a student production. When I came back to Liverpool from university I got a place on the young writers programme at the Everyman in Liverpool which set me on my path to becoming a playwright and since then the two have been overlapping each other.”

Lizzie explains the process between writing a play and writing a song. “There isn’t always a difference between writing a play or a song. I often think of ideas and sometimes the same ideas will be popping up in my songs as well as my plays, it doesn’t separate the two. I get interested in things and those ideas surface in one way or another. Song writing starts with a melody in my head and I won’t leave it alone and then becomes and instinctive process to find lyrics to accompany it which then becomes a more structured process. There is instinct and emotions early on which quickly becomes a puzzle of how you arrange the pieces to tell the story. The same process works for writing a play.”

Lizzie’s musical talent also make an appearance in the show. Not only did she write the play, but she also wrote all the lyrics and co-wrote the music with Martin Heslop and Vidar Norheim. “I actually featured in the play as well,” she continues. “We did the initial run September 2015 and I appeared as a musician and not an actor. I’ve included roles for the musicians so they become part of the show. They are very physical parts, as I wanted to make the musicians have more of an active role on stage.” Sadly, Lizzie won’t be appearing in the show this time around. “We’ve got Folk singer Maz O’ Connor who will be touring with the play. She’s taken over my role, but she’s brilliant and will bring a lot to the role.”

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“Every play I write is different in terms of approach.” Lizzie goes on to explain. “Narvik started life as a ten minute version of the story at the Every Word festival which was great. The brief was to write a piece of drama with music, so it was a great opportunity and allowed myself and Hannah to present some of the ideas we had been working on. There are scenes used in the early stage of the play which have lasted and are still in the play now and the song that featured is also still in the play. The main actor is also still the same. The audience responded very well to it and I knew that I didn’t want to let go of the story. We’ve done lots of research going round museums and recounting tales by other men who had been on the arctic convoy in World War Two. The story itself is one of fiction, but inspired by true details.”

Lizzie’s career started at a young age and has continued to blossom over the years. She has a lot of useful advice to any youngsters out there that feel they have the potential and the ability to do what she does. “Just do it! I found it incredibly useful as a singer/songwriter to get in front of an audience. It is a terrifying experience, but it allows you to gain confidence. It gives you the opportunity to test material and get responses from an audience. It allows you to gain confidence as a performer and as a writer as well. It is a similar thing with playwriting. You need to have that confidence to be able to put something on someone’s desk. If you want to become a writer then try and find a local writing course, get talking to people and go and see some plays and see what gaps there are and where you could come into the mix.”

For now, Lizzie’s determination has opened many doors for her, but has also given her other opportunities she may have never had. Sadly, her Grandfather passed away last year, but it gave her the chance to learn more about him. “It was great for me to work on this play as I had some great conversations with my Grandfather that may not have happened had I not have done it. The story is a way to allow the memory of him to continue. It’s a lovely sense of continuity.”

Selected tour dates

HOME, Manchester

Tuesday 31st January– Saturday 4 February at 7:45pm

Matinee performance: Saturday 4th February at 2pm

Box Office: Tel 0161 2001500

Theatre by the Lake, Keswick

Wednesday 8 February - Thursday 9 February at 7:30pm

Box Office: Tel 017687 74411 /

York Theatre Royal

Thursday 23 February at 7:45pm

Box Office: Tel: 01904 623568 /

The Unity at the Bluecoat, Liverpool

Monday 27 February – Friday 3 March 7:30pm

Box Office: Tel 0151 7025324 /

The Met, Bury

Tuesday 7th – Wednesday 8th March 8pm

Box Office: Tel 0161 7612216

The Carriageworks, Leeds

Thursday 9th March at 7.30pm

Box Office: Tel 0113 376 0318

Harrogate Theatre

Tuesday 14th – Saturday 18th March 7:45pm (Mat: 18 March at 2:45pm)

Box Office: Tel 01423 502116 /