Bronagh Gallagher interview - 'Girl From the North Country helps people appreciate what they have in life'

Bronagh Gallagher

Conor McPherson’s Girl From the North Country opened at the Old Vic earlier this year to hugely positive reviews, with many taken aback by the beautiful reinterpretations of classic Bob Dylan numbers and the beautiful story that accompanied it. 

Now, those who didn’t see the show in Lambeth will have another chance as it transfers to the Noel Coward Theatre from tonight. We spoke with returning cast member Bronagh Gallagher (whose credits include Pulp Fiction, Star Wars and War Horse) about the return of the show. 


What’s it like coming back into the rehearsal room for a show you’ve already done?

The beauty of it is that we know the show, but it’s still very fresh. It’s only been a few weeks. We didn’t do it for a massive length at the Old Vic, we didn’t get exhausted or bored. The singing element and the music element kept it very alive and very fresh. We have a couple of new members of cast which is great. They’re all getting on perfectly now, it’s been lovely coming together again.

Is it any easier the second time around? Do you get less nervous about it?

I get terrible nerves. You have to get over them or that’s when you make mistakes, as your voice dries up or your mouth dries up. But we’re very relaxed now, I’m more excited than anything. We genuinely were like a big love bubble, like a family. We all got on so well. And it felt like a very special piece of work too, we can’t wait to get back out to do it.

Was there any pressure in performing this work, as Dylan’s songs are held dearly by so many?

There’s always pressure because when somebody creates something from air. For a man of Conor’s age to write the plays that he’s written, it demonstrates his profound understanding of human beings, and he’s only in his mid-40s. His depth and soul is at the heart of this piece of survival and questioning life and what is it all about.

Line that up with the work of someone who I would call a prophet, Bob Dylan, and how this can work. It works because they’re both brilliant writers. Conor is extremely researched, and he knew what it was he was putting his name to and the challenge he was given. So you want to do well for both of them and for the company, so you do feel the pressure. You’re willing it to be good for them, that’s where our hearts were and fortunately, it was greatly received.

Shirley Henderson in Girl From the North Country
Shirley Henderson in Girl From the North Country

It goes without saying that you’re a Dylan fan, then?

Oh god, yeah. He is a prophet I think. The very first song that blew my head off when I was about 18 was “Blood On the Tracks”. As understanding of human beings, I don’t know anyone who writes like that. The dysfunction of human beings, the darkness of human beings, the capabilities of hate and love.

The show really stamps its mark on his songs, with some really haunting orchestrations…

Simon Hale is the musical arranger and put his take on them, but Conor knew exactly what rhythm he wanted from them, what presentation and how they were to be basically scored. He was as much involved in the writing as he was in the music. Between himself, Simon Hale and Alan Berry [musical director], they really were an incredible trio.

And the cast get quite involved with the band, picking up instruments and joining in. How did that come about?

I met Conor over a year ago to discuss being a part of the show, we had a lovely lunch in Dublin and talked about music and my music. We had actually worked together 17 years ago: when the Royal Court it re-opened Andrew Scott, Brian Cox and I acted in Conor’s first play there which was Dublin Carol. We’ve known each other since then. When we sat down for lunch I told him I can play the drums as well as sing, that’s kind of my vibe. It was always in the script that the actors would maybe pick up a guitar, but there was no mention of the cast playing the drums. So we decided to get some drums on the first day and take it from there.

You’re a musician yourself, have you ever thought about writing a musical?

My guitar player in my old band used to always say, “you’ve got to write a musical, you’ll become a millionaire!” It’s an area I haven’t really embraced entirely. There were classic musicals growing up, things like Cats, West Side Story, Jesus Christ Superstar, South Pacific. More recently, I haven’t really explored that. I suppose if I wrote a musical it would be set more in the world that I’m in to which is soul and rock and roll. I wouldn’t say no, I might embark on it one day.

Dylan’s management approached Conor to write the play, are there any plans for him to see the show?

We don’t know. Jeff Rosen his manager was there on opening night and it was lovely to meet him. Bob Dylan has seen a lot of rehearsal stuff and heard the soundtrack and stuff. He gave it the thumbs up. I think he’s a big fan of Conor’s work, so they spoke to him about a potential script.

Why should someone who missed the show at the Old Vic come to see it in the West End?

Because it’s a whole new world of story-telling. It’s unique to Conor’s storytelling. There is redemption, it’s a very honest piece of work about life – one of the last lines in it is “life is terrible” – and we know life is extraordinary as well. It puts people in a place of appreciation for what they have, and I think one of the biggest causes of depression and sadness in modern life is no appreciating what we actually have.


Girl From the North Country is at the Noel Coward Theatre until 31st March. 

Girl From the North Country Tickets are available now. 

Looking for the best seats...