Writer and Director: Conor McPherson
Music and Lyrics: Bob Dylan
Minnesota – 1934, Nick and Elizabeth Laine own a guesthouse, full of regular lost souls and wayward travellers. America is in the grips of the Great Depression – money is tough, and times are hard. The bank is threatening to repossess their house, their adopted teenage daughter is pregnant, and their son is an alcoholic. This emotionally gripping storyline is accompanied by a strong set list from Bob Dylan, and a fantastically talented cast.
Conor McPherson takes Bob Dylan’s brilliant back catalogue of music and puts it to good use. Rather than solely showcasing the music and setting up a half-baked story line to fit around the playlist, this is instead a strongly written, fully formed narrative that intertwines Dylan’s music – perfectly performed by the cast and excellent on-stage band The Howlin’ Winds. The focus is the troubled characters and their various backstories, and while the musical performances are impeccable, they serve as a very welcome addition rather than coming across as those in a purpose-built jukebox musical.
McPherson’s story focuses on hardships, struggle but, most of all, connections. While the connection between Nick (Graham Kent ) and his secret lover Mrs Neilsen (Maria Omakinwa), is less favourable in comparison to the bond formed with Marianne (Justina Kehinde) caring for her quickly declining adoptive mother Elizabeth (Frances McNamee), both are integral to the narrative progression. Metaphorical connections are explored also, such as the relationship between Gene Laine (Gregor Milne) and alcohol, or travelling boxer Joe (Joshua C. Jackson) and his connection with race and prejudices of the time, allowing each character the opportunity for their backstories and battles to have a moment in the spotlight.
This entire cast is a force to be reckoned with. They take McPherson’s well-written script and inject relatability, passion and depth, enrapturing the audience and continuously giving their all to every scene, even when not necessarily in the spotlight themselves. Frances McNamee gives an incredible performance as Elizabeth Laine, brilliantly portraying a depiction of dementia, as well as her fantastic rendition of Like A Rolling Stone. Maria Omakinwa as Mrs Neilsen manages to stand out immensely from the outstanding cast. Her melodic, soothing vocals are spine-chillingly beautiful, her opening solo of Went To See The Gypsy hypnotising the audience and setting the pace from the very beginning of the show.
The costume and set design crafted by Rae Smith, is in keeping with the time period, with no requirement to be flashy or over the top. The brilliance instead lies in the small details – its subtlety and sparsity speaking volumes. The large cast have ample space to perform, occasionally in the backdrop of the rundown guesthouse, but most impressively against scenic backgrounds for the larger choreographed musical numbers. These simple yet striking images provide an ideal visual behind the perfectly timed performances.
Like A Rolling Stone this jukebox musical picks up momentum and intrigue with each scene, re-visiting the various character arcs, tying up loose ends with constantly wonderful performances by the talented cast. Mesmerising and moving, this is a show that will stay with the audience for a long time.
Runs until 18 March 2023 and then continues to tour