THE current tour of the Conor McPherson play Girl from the North Country, set in Depression-era Duluth, Minnesota, at the bottom western corner of Lake Superior with songs by the city’s most famous son, Bob Dylan, returns to the south west at Bristol Hippodrome until 4th February.
It’s an unforgettable piece of theatre, combining the tried and tested “American” story, complete with narrator, family besieged by economic pressures, literary son already headed to the bottom of the bottle etc, with the songs of Bob Dylan. He didn’t get his Nobel prize for the quality of his singing, but for his extraordinary lyrics, covering every aspect of human experience. It is no surprise that those lyrics are now an international academic study, always illusive, allusive opaque, open to myriad interpretations, from the pen of a man famous as the world’s most difficult interviewee.
When this fiercely private and protective man told his “people” to contact the Irish playwright and offer his entire back catalogue – more than 600 songs in 58 years – as music for a play he might write … and with NO STRINGS … the astonished McPherson was not going to refuse.
The audience is transported to the rooming house run by Nick Laine, where he lives with his demented wife Elizabeth, his drunken and mournful son Gene and his pregnant adopted daughter Marianne. The bank has given him two months to pay off a massive debt, and the time is running out.
The 19-strong cast all experienced McPherson’s directing style, which encouraged them to flesh out and colour their own characters. And so, as the tour has progressed from its opening in Dublin, subtle additions have been made by the actors, who now inhabit their characters, none more so than the mesmerising Frances McNamee as Eizabeth. With four on-stage musicians, the story unfolds and the back-stories emerge.
Don’t miss it, even if you think you are not a Dylan fan. It’s not a musical, it is a play with some of the most compelling songs ever, sung as you’ve never heard them before by a cast of brilliant singing actors.
The tour came to nearby Bath last October, and perhaps the proximity is responsible for its not selling out the vast Matcham-designed theatre in Bristol. That means tickets are still available.