Girl from the North Country – Theatre Royal Nottingham

Reviewer: Skylar Mabry

Book: Conor McPherson

Music and Lyrics: Bob Dylan

Director: Conor McPherson

Conor McPherson’s multi-nationally acclaimed musical weaves an intricate picture of a group of Americans in Duluth, Minnesota in 1934, achingly stitched together with music from the inimitable Bob Dylan. Each character passes through a time-weary guest house, searching for a future in a world which seems to have none.

Owner-proprietor of the guest house is Nick Laine (Colin Connor), who attempts to provide for his ageing wife, Elizabeth (Frances McNamee), amidst a burgeoning affair with one of his guests – and with help only from his jobless writer son, Gene (played on this occasion by Owen Lloyd) and his pregnant adopted daughter, Marianne (Justina Kehinde). Connor presents a strong depiction of the ever-present tension of the times, eliciting empathy despite his outbursts and questionable survival choices. The delicate balance of the guest house is thrown when Joe Scott (Joshua C Jackson) and the Reverend Marlowe (Eli James) blow in from out of town.

Nick Laine has plans to marry Marianne off to Mr Perry (Teddy Kempner), an enthusiastic yet antiquated man from town, to ensure she and her unborn child are provided for, but Marianne doesn’t agree with this decision. Other guests at the house include Elias Burke (Ross Carswell) and his parents (Rebecca Thornhill, and on this occasion Neil Stewart), who have a murky past and an ultimately agonising future, as heart-achingly played by the multi-talented Rebecca Thornhill.

The vocal prowess of each cast member is undeniable. Standouts in this tableau of Americana, however, are ensemble member Daniel Reid-Walters, who is the first voice heard onstage; and Eve Norris, with her piercingly beautiful voice in the molasses-like duet, I Want You, with Owen Lloyd. The onstage band, directed by Andrew Corcoran (featuring Ruth Elder, Ed McFarlane, and Felix Stickland) expertly complement each other and the cast, with various percussion provided by cast members throughout.

Scenic and costume designer Rae Smith presents some romantically vast and lonely stage pictures in partnership with lighting designer Mark Henderson. McPherson and team have crafted a haunting depiction of these characters, which in its emotion, elevates the timelessness of Dylan’s music to new heights. There are moments where one might question the worth in perpetuating the tropes present in the story, but the excellence of the music dominates and lulls these concerns to sleep.

Bob Dylan holds a unique and highly esteemed place in music history. Girl From The North Country will hold a similarly unique and highly esteemed place in musical theatre history, especially as a break from traditional jukebox musicals. If you’re hungry to be homesick for a home you never had, Girl From The North Country is for you.

Runs Until 15 October 2022 and on tour

The Reviews Hub Score

Achingly impeccable Americana

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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