Girl From The North Country

Girl from the north country
Girl From The North Country

Conor McPherson’s latest play, Girl from the North Country was such a success at the Old Vic that it is now playing at the Noel Coward Theatre. The show, set in the 1930’s follows a family that run a guesthouse in Minnesota. Struggling, not only with the great depression but with illness, race and unplanned pregnancies, Nick Laine, the head of the family battles with all of this head on. You also meet those passing through the guest house, a bible salesman, a notable boxer and a family with a mentally disabled son all struggling with their own journeys and reasons for being there. Set against the backdrop of Bob Dylan’s music it results in a moving piece of theatre.

This show is packed full of acting talent. Shirley Henderson plays Elizabeth Laine, Nick’s wife with dementia. She flicks between moments of lucidness and others of childlike helplessness with many moments in between. Henderson plays this part utterly convincingly and by the part of the play where Nick, played by Ciaran Hinds, reveals that prior to the beginning of her illness Elizabeth had told him that she wasn’t in love with him anymore, your heart breaks over and over for him. Sheila Atim takes on the role of Marianne Laine, the Laine’s adopted daughter who is pregnant out of wedlock. She flits between fierce when dealing with her potential elderly suitor to tender delivery of Tight Connection to my Heart. The rest of the cast are equally as strong and all pack a punch with their characterisation.

Bob Dylan’s songs aren’t shoehorned in and often simply serve as a backdrop for the mood rather than developing the plot however they are always relevant. They often focus on how the character is feeling and the haunting music is delivered flawlessly by the cast and small onstage band. Whilst most of the songs featured just one or two of the cast the rest of the cast provided rich backup harmonies adding a beautiful dimension to it. It is almost inaccurate to describe this show as a musical but more a play with music. The songs are often delivered from downstage with a microphone for the soloist and the rest of the ensemble huddled around another microphone. This helps ensure that the simplicity of it all speaks volumes rather than any fancy choreography.

The sound design also deserves a mention, even from my position in the balcony I heard every spoken word and every sung harmony. Due to the often melancholy nature of the piece there is always the risk that it verges on the quiet side but it managed to keep it’s intensity whilst still being able to hear the whole piece.

This is a show that has been billed as a must see for Dylan fans but even as someone unfamiliar with his work the emotion in the music and story are so utterly intertwined that you can enjoy the piece with no prior knowledge of Dylan’s music at all.

A big thanks to Seatplan for the tickets. If you haven’t heard of them do check out their website where you can not only see views from most seats in the West End but also book tickets, including for Girl From the North Country.

If you liked this review you may also like my review of Five Guys Named Moe and my review of Beautiful.

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