Last night I had the pleasure of watching the ‘Girl from the North Country’ held at the magnificent Wales Millenium Centre. The story was written and produced by Conor McPherson using the songs of Bob Dylan. It’s a double Olivier and Tony Award-winning West End Broadway ‘smash’.
For those thinking the story is about Bob Dylan, it’s not! Dylan’s songs have been reimagined, revamped, and weaved into the lives of a group of troubled souls from Duluth, Minnesota (Dylan’s hometown) a city on the shores of Lake Superior. A tale of love, family, hardship, and survival.
Set in a guesthouse in the winter of 1934 in the middle of the great depression – seven years before the great songwriter was born. It was bleak and grim and that radiated out of the performances. Hard times are a test of strength and character and also how resilient we are when all else fails and the chips are down.
Proprietor Nick Laine is down on his luck and financially struggling to keep their guesthouse from being taken over by the bank, while his wife Elizabeth has dementia and floats in and out of moments of clarity. Nick and Elizabeth’s children also have their own struggles going on – Marianne is unmarried and 5 months pregnant and Gene is going nowhere in life, jobless, his struggles are with the demon drink.
I loved the way the ‘super talented’ musicians played using 1930s instruments and were often joined by cast members throughout the production, bringing the music to life. Every song was brilliantly performed but for me, the standouts were ‘Tight Connection’, ‘Rolling Stone’, ‘I Want You,’ ‘What Can I Do for You’, ‘Jokerman’, ‘Forever Young’ and ‘Pressing On’. Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for his lyrics and these performances are a superb showcase, all performed with confidence and passion, they had a strong, emotional impact that made my skin tingle with delight.
Dylan’s magic comes from his lyrics, the unique delivery of those lyrics and the exciting driving force of the music was a lot stronger than Dylan’s own voice. The way Dylan’s songs have been reimagined and revamped is impressive.
This was one of the best pieces of musical theatre I’ve seen in a long time, I was so excited I felt like a dog with two tails!