Girl From The North Country

"Visually and vocally stunning"

Written and directed by Conor McPherson and with music and lyrics by Bob Dylan, Girl From the North Country tells the story of various members of a community in 1930’s America, amidst the grip of the Great Depression.

The show opens with a musical performance in the style of a band with Joe Scott (Joshua C. Jackson) taking the lead vocal.  I will talk more about the vocal performances, however this was an extremely strong start of what was to come.  We meet Dr Walker (Chris McHallem) who breaks the fourth wall and speaks to the audience, becoming the narrator.  Dr Walker is also the Doctor of the Laine family.  Nick Laine (Colin Connor) is the owner of a guesthouse on the brink of financial ruin.  His wife, Elizabeth (Frances McNamee) suffers from a mental illness and is very distant from the rest of her family offering a childlike state with no filter towards other. They have a son, Gene (Gregor Milne) and an adopted daughter Marianne (Justina Kehinde) who is pregnant, however the identity of the father is unknown.

Other residents of the guest house include widower Mrs Neilsen (Maria Omakinwa) who is in a relationship with Nick Laine.  There is also the Burke family, Mr Burke (James Staddon), Mrs Burke (Rebecca Thornhill) and their son Elias (Ross Carswell) who has a learning disability and the whole family are struggling to come to terms with their recent downturn in luck after Mr Burke lost his business.

We also meet a bible salesman Reverend Marlowe (Eli James) and boxer Joshua C. Jackson (Joe Scott) as they arrive at the guesthouse during a storm. It is these characters that change the dynamic in the house throughout their time there.

With music and lyrics by Grammy, Academy and Golden Globe award winner Bob Dylan, each song featured is weaved into the storyline which is dark at times. If you’re a fan of Dylan’s music then I think it’s safe to say that most of his songs are somewhat melancholy, however combined with the music style of blues/jazz and at times gospel, each and every song really does resonate.  Stand out performances of the night come from Joe Scott, Justina Kehinde and Frances McNamee. The soul, despair and angst in their voices was so heartfelt and really draws you in to the torment they are all suffering.  In particular McNamee’s rendition of ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ and ‘Forever Young’ are definite goosebump moments.

The staging, designed by Rae Smith really encapsulates the rundown guesthouse where all the action takes place.  There are many moments of darkness and clever use of the ensemble cast in silhouette as they perform the musical numbers.  Scene changes are also slick.

I feel like I’m mentioning Frances McNamee quite a lot so far, however credit where it is due, her portrayal of Elizabeth keeps me mesmerised throughout. Small movements, the swishing of her dress, all childlike in their appearance and her ability to play such a complex character, combined with her incredibly soothing singing voice really propels her to star of the show for me.

The stage is strewn with musical instruments which certain cast members play throughout the show, under the musical direction of Andrew Corcoran.  The music really is the central point of this show, whilst the story may be hard to follow at times and us never having answers to many questions by the end, it is testament to Dylan’s genius writing that leaves us feel contented with the many incredible songs within in his back catalogue being bought onto the stage.

Girl From the North Country is worthy of its many accolades, including a Tony Award for Best Orchestrations, with music that is gut wrenching, haunting and beautiful.  The whole show is visually and vocally stunning with an insanely talented cast who deserve all the praise.

This production was reviewed on the 7th February 2023 at The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham where it runs until the 11th February 2023. Tickets available here: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/girl-from-the-north-country/the-alexandra-theatre-birmingham/

Photo credit: Johan Persson

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