It may be a trite metaphor when applied to a seafaring culture, but you could be forgiven for assuming the boat had sailed when it came to the comedic potential of Scandinavian Noir. It’s been a full decade since The Killing grabbed the attention of the BBC4 crowd prompting an endless stream of frozen corpses, frowning cops, massive beards and chunky cable knit on British screens. The tropes are by now obvious and indelible. Will Penswick has set himself quite a challenge if he hopes to transcend them. While Nørdic(k) goes exactly in the direction you would expect, Penswick’s warm, faux-exasperated performance and easy audience interaction guarantee a fun, silly afternoon Fringe show.
Pætur Pætursson is a troubled noir hero in the grand tradition. The foremost (only) detective in the Faroe Islands is back on the Faroese force, after a period of exile due to an unfortunate incident involving a dead seal. During his enforced leave of absence, he’s acquired both a DJ residency at the Ministry of Sønd and the drink problem that inevitably accompanies such furrowed-browed protagonists. There’s literally been a murder on the dancefloor at the club, and our hero must solve it, with a little help from the audience.
Penswick starts as he means to go on, with a slightly self-defeating potted history of the Nordic Noir that basically explains many of the running gags. This doesn’t bode well. Penswick may have felt the show may be otherwise confusing for Scandi-neophytes, but potentially indicates a lack of confidence in the material. The frequent lapse into Swedish Chef hurdy-gurdy vowels is also lacking in imagination, although it offers the opportunity for a choice pun or two – Studio Fifty-Fjord for instance.
Thankfully Nørdic(k) takes the most ridiculous option at every step and the sense of weary familiarity ebbs away. It takes a while to relax into the choppy rhythms and a sense of amateurism that proves to be feigned – deliberately missed sound-cues for example – but once the direction becomes clear the signposted gags and repeated tropes become more comforting than irksome. A very game audience also helps tremendously. You may expect some reticence in the early afternoon, but everyone gets into the spirit, not least the chap pulled from the crowd to play Pætursson’s partner, who was bizarrely convincing in an interrogation scene. Penswick for his part is an adept improviser and clearly relishes every oddity his volunteers hurl at him.
Nørdic(k) is rickety and uneven but overcomes its obvious shortcomings with an appealing performance and a willing crowd. It wisely surrenders to sheer silliness and eventually, even the pair of slightly baffled actual Norwegians in attendance seem to be won round. Will Penswick can certainly chisel out an interesting character, even if he sticks within a careworn narrative.