Arts Reviews

“A Must-See Production”- Theatre Review: Girl From The North Country @ Theatre Royal

Poppy Read-Pitt

Girl from the North Country is a jukebox musical that features the music of legendary folk singer/songwriter, Bob Dylan. The play is set in Duluth, Minnesota, coincidentally, the birthplace of Bob Dylan. Set in 1934, it follows a group of down-on-their-luck characters, who are all financially and emotionally reeling from the ongoing Great Depression. Poppy Read-Pitt reviews.

Most of the characters are staying in a shoddy guesthouse run by Nick Laine. His wife, Elizabeth Laine, is suffering from a severe case of dementia, and he is unable to support the family, as the looming threat of bank foreclosure hangs over his head. Their two children (alcoholic writer Gene, and adopted Marianne who’s pregnant by a man who she refuses to name) are consistently encouraged to find prospects that reach outside their current living situation – a central part of both characters’ conflict.

The other characters include the more permeant residents of the guest house: Mrs. Neilsen (a widower who is having an affair with Nick, and waiting for her late husband’s inheritance to come through) and the Burke family (including Mr and Mrs Burke, who lost their livelihoods due to the financial crash, and their adult son Elias, who has a learning disability). What catalyses the plot, however, is the arrival of two new guests: boxer Joe Scott, and Bible salesman Reverend Marlowe.

The songs don’t always correspond with the plot

The musical follows all these characters, as the plot weaves in and out of each of their respective journeys, with all of it being underscored by the reworked songs of Bob Dylan. The songs don’t always correspond with the plot, opting instead to capture the wider mood of the production – one of community, despondency and vintage Americana.

The vocal performances are stellar throughout, but a special mention must go to Eve Norris (playeing Kate), for her stunning rendition of Dylan’s I Want You, with Owen Lloyd (playing Gene Laine). Dylan’s original I Want You is upbeat and jaunty, while the version in this production is heavily slowed down. This makes the love song a lot more potent, and captures the zeitgeist of both characters perfectly.

Another special mention must go to Joshua C Jackson (who plays Joe Scott), for his version of Hurricane / All Along the Watchtower, and to Maria Omakinwa who plays Mrs. Neilsen, for her excellent performance throughout, as well as her impeccable end to the production.

Roughish moments of comedy often being undercut by the bleak realism of these characters’ predicament

Throughout, the play maintains a potent mix of humour and tragedy; something that’s best encapsulated by the character of Elizabeth Laine. When Mr Perry (an elderly local businessman) comes to court her adopted daughter, Elizabeth recounts a time when he effectively sexually assaulted her, but her description of his penis as a ‘small Venetian sausage’ evokes laughter from the audience, until she follows that anecdote up with: ‘how I cried and cried afterwards, I was only a girl’, and the audience are collectively sobered. This instance is indicative of the wider mood of the production, with roguish moments of comedy often being undercut by the bleak realism of these characters’ predicament.

Overall, Girl from the North Country is an impressive and richly emotive production that had the audience laughing at one moment, and then superbly moved the next. With a vastly talented and engaging cast, coupled with the iconic music of Bob Dylan, it is certainly a must-see production.

Poppy Read-Pitt

Featured image courtesy of Alex Watkin. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.

In-article images courtesy of @dylanmusical via No changes were made to these images.

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