Review Roundup: GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY at the Old Vic
The Old Vic presents the World Premiere of Girl From the North Country, an electrifying new work written and directed by Conor McPherson along with classic songs from Bob Dylan. Girl from the North Country plays at the Old Vic until 7 October.
Duluth, Minnesota in the midst of the Great Depression. A family adrift, their future on a knife edge. Lost and lonely people drifting through the rooms of their guesthouse. But Nick Laine thinks he's seen a way out...
The full cast list includes Sheila Atim, Ron Cook, Bronagh Gallagher, Shirley Henderson, Ciaran Hinds, Claudia Jolly, Arinzé Kene, Debbie Kurup, Jim Norton, Sam Reid, Michael Shaeffer, Jack Shalloo, and Stanley Townsend.
Let's see what the critics had to say!
Marianka Swain, BroadwayWorld: Defiantly rejecting the standard jukebox model, Conor McPherson's much-anticipated new work mining the back catalogue of Bob Dylan is labelled "a play with songs" - or perhaps that should be a play and songs, with two distinct forms of storytelling weaving around one another, reflecting, deepening, revealing, in exquisitely soulful harmony.
Ben Brantley, New York Times: Instead, without conventional segues, the performers pick up instruments, gather around microphones and move with the blessed synchronicity of people ineffably tuned into one another. Standing in their weathered period costumes against Rae Smith's wide-open space of a set (starkly lighted by Mark Henderson), they belong both to a very particular time and place and to a wondering eternity. They're not just singing Bob Dylan songs. They are giving eloquence to wounded, inarticulate souls from a lost era that, for the moment, feels achingly like the present.
Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph: And ingrate that I am, I have to confess to being a mite underwhelmed by this valiant and undeniably accomplished effort to do something more oblique and intriguing with songs that will outlive us all. McPherson, whose early, masterly storytelling sensation The Weir is reason enough for eternal gratitude, has shepherded some 20 tracks - most of them not obvious choices (you can go whistle for Blowin' in the Wind) - into a populous, otherworldly play that combines the hard grit of the great Depression with something numinous and mysterious.
Michael Billington, The Guardian: Shirley Henderson as Nick's wife gives a mesmerising portrait of a woman unshackled by social convention. But Ciarán Hinds as the stoically suffering Nick, Stanley Townsend as a bankrupt factory owner and Bronagh Gallagher - very handy on drums - as his pill-popping wife are equally striking. And there is fine work from Sheila Atim as Nick's desolate daughter, Arinzé Kene as the fleeing pugilist, Ron Cook as the choric doctor and Jim Norton as the shoe merchant who, lamenting his widowed solitude, says: "You remember a warm light and a smile from long ago." That's a deeply poignant line, and it says much about the fruitful creative marriage of McPherson and Dylan that it might have been written by either of them.
Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard: The compilation musicals merry-go-round has, mercifully, so far skipped the work of Bob Dylan. This is not, rest assured, the Bob Dylan musical, but rather a play, by Conor McPherson, best known for his supernatural drama The Weir, with songs by Dylan silkily interwoven. It is, says McPherson in a programme note, a 'conversation between the songs and the story' and what a conversation it is, beguiling and soulful and quietly, exquisitely, heartbreaking. This is, in short, a very special piece of theatre.
Sarah Crompton, WhatsOnStage: First a confession. I have never quite 'got' the music of Bob Dylan - so I was worried that Conor McPherson's sort of musical, sort of play, with music and lyrics by the literary Nobel Prize winner would leave me cold."
"As it turns out the songs - smartly chosen and sung with force and feeling by an incredible cast - are the best thing about a very peculiar show indeed.
Their stories, such as they are, are revealed in the intervals between songs, performed to the audience and with microphones, accompanied by an excellent, pared-back on stage band using period instruments (arranged and supervised by Simon Hale). You can see where it's heading, but it simply doesn't work.
Ann Treneman, The Times: You don't need to know [Dylan's] songs to fall for this play by Conor McPherson, which includes 20 of them. But if you do know them well, as I do, then there are moments when you can just close your eyes and melt into the night. And, it must be said, though possibly in a whisper, that almost all are more enjoyable because the man himself is not singing them.
Natasha Tripney, The Stage: McPherson crams in far too many characters. The Laines' drunken son Gene has a love interest, but she gets merely a handful of lines and half a song before she's forgotten. The great Ron Cook is underused as a narrator, and the story itself is three parts spun sugar to one part social commentary. Sentimentality and cliche abound. Yet this all matters less than it might because the cast is superb. There's not a weak link among them.
Matt Trueman, Variety: "Bob Dylan: the Musical," or something more sophisticated? Picking his way through the legendary songwriter's back catalogue, Irish playwright Conor McPherson has come up with a portrait of Depression-era America in "Girl From the North Country." Dylan's music sets the mood and, if it sometimes feels like a setting in search of a story, the production at London's Old Vic taps into that time. It walks a fine line between a beloved literary tradition and something more resonant - a reflection of our own recession. The blend slips down easy: enjoyable and soulful.
Johnny Oleksinski, New York Post: Written and directed by Tony-nominated playwright Conor McPherson, this dreadful new musical uses Bob Dylan's hits to tell the tale of a 1934 boarding house in Duluth, Minn., the musician's birthplace. From there, the story of owner Nick (Ciarán Hinds) and the home's depressing denizens becomes as incomprehensible as the accents - a mystifying Dublin-Dallas mix. Dylan's music is sung superbly, with all the requisite passion and anguish...Dylan's lyrics are more poetic than specific, so they don't much move the sedate story along.
Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan