Girl From the North Country review ★★★★★
There's enough poetry and narrative intensity in Bob Dylan's music to tell all kinds of stories. But in a 'play with music', writer Conor McPherson (The Weir) weaves Dylan's songs into a story about one family's fate during the Great Depression.
Named after Dylan's 1963 song, Girl From the North Country, the play is set in Duluth, Minnesota during the 1930s. It follows 'a family adrift'.
Nick Laine runs a guesthouse. Every day, he creeps closer to defaulting on its mammoth mortgage. His wife Elizabeth is lost in a haze of early-onset dementia. Their son is a have-a-go Hemmingway, drinking his way through literary aspirations, unemployment and loneliness. Marianne, the black baby who was abandoned in one of the guest rooms, is all grown up with no partner and her own child growing inside her.
Waifs and runaways come and go, all with their own stories and secrets. The whole cast of 20 actors and musicians is impressive (particularly in capturing the Duluth dialect). But it’s Shirley Henderson who especially stands out, playing distant wife and mother Elizabeth with humour, heart and a strange, impish strength.
Shirley Henderson as Elizabeth Laine and Michael Shaeffer as Reverend Marlowe
‘Pain comes in all kinds: physical, spiritual and indescribable,’ we are told in the opening narration. And, over the course of two and half hours, every kind of suffering shimmers with life and is offset with bitter, brief flashes of hope.
There’s a striking symbiosis between the stories and Dylan's songs. The bluesy base, haunting strains of harmonica and lyrical beauty are artfully entwined through the drama.
Girl From the North Country is not a story written around the classics or a case of 'Mr Tambourine Man' shoehorned into a script. It's emphatically not a musical or a greatest hits compilation to titillate fans. (This Dylan-disciple theatre reviewer and her can't-name-one-of-his-songs companion enjoyed the show in equal abundance).
McPherson takes tracks spanning 1963-2012 and inserts them into one winter in 1934. He describes it as ‘a conversation between the songs and the story’; they illuminate each other and embody the storytelling heart of folk music.
The effect is transcendent.
|What||Girl From the North Country, Gielgud Theatre|
|Where||Gielgud Theatre, 35 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, W1D 6AR | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Piccadilly Circus (underground)|
10 Dec 19 – 01 Feb 20, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|