Review: Girl From The North Country (Tour)
Girl From The North Country is a play about everything but at the same time, nothing really happens.
Everything that is highlighted - the economic worry, the day-to-day struggle, the discrimination, the marital tensions, was happening to everyone at that time and to a degree, still is. The narrative is almost incidental. The Bob Dylan songs are the soundtrack for the people - as he always intended.
Photo by Johan Persson
The show, written by Conor McPherson, follows the comings and goings in a guesthouse in the early 1930s. This guesthouse is in Duluth, Minnesota (where Dylan was born in 1941). Winter seems never-ending, people haven’t yet recovered from the crash, and the depression stretches out. It’s a slow-burn where almost episodically we dip into the strained storylines that eventually tangle together - though never leave us all that invested.
Elizabeth and Nick Laine’s marriage was falling apart even before her diagnosis with dementia. As the heart of the show, understudy Nichola MacEvilly plays Elizabeth brilliantly. She’s sharp, and her candid comments provide a lot of the laughs that break up the tension. As she waltzes around the stage, seemingly aimlessly, jumping at noises interrupting her thoughts, her disease isn’t always portrayed tastefully but unfortunately the disease isn’t always a dignified.
MacEvilly's “Rolling Stone” is tenacious. Elizabeth loses herself in the music whilst remaining fully in control. It’s a special, touching scene.
As Nick, Colin Connor, is an assured presence. Being head of the house he worries for his wife, his daughter Marianne (Justina Kehinde - who as the strong young woman could spin silk with her voice), and son Gene (Gregor Milne is terrific as the drunk wasting his life). Nick finds solace in Miss Neilsen, a widow awaiting her inheritance. Maria Omakinwa is tender and graceful in the part, her voice angelic.
The production is like looking through a window - principle and ensemble members pick up instruments too (kudos especially to Rebecca Thornhill and her drums) are joined by show band The Howlin' Winds who add rough soul to the proceedings - filling the stage, they all carry on making turkey sandwiches and watching fireworks unbeknownst that we’re flies on their wall. Wafer thin screens become semi translucent walls allowing us to peek through, and wooden furniture is arranged functionally. Simon Baker's delicate sound design brings the guesthouse to life with rain and winds.
Mark Henderson’s expert lighting is lovely. Warm gold hues touch the stage and dance with the soft smoke haze. It spotlights the pivotal characters as they take to microphones to sing directly to the audience rather than to each other. This concert set up is intriguing but at times feels disjointed as we wait on tenterhooks for the action to really start.
Photo by Johan Persson
McPherson has crafted a deep dive into Dylan’s catalogue. It would satisfy the most dedicated of fans and intrigue the novice listeners. As Joe Scott, Joshua C Jackson's performance is a standout. His rendition of “Slow Train” and later performance of “Hurricane” is electrifying.
The piece brings together the cast members, during numbers they move slowly as one. Lucy Hind's movement direction is reminiscent of the romance of early courting and lazy line dancing. There’s a quiet solidarity and hope to it.
Girl From the North Country is a slow tale, it requires patience and ultimately to go with it and see where you land. Like enjoying a neat whiskey, there is relief at the bottom of the glass.
Girl From the North Country plays at Curve to 11th March