Conor McPherson’s new play Girl from the North Country has opened at The Old Vic, after much hype in the theatre-world and amongst Bob Dylan fans. The play features cuts from the Nobel Prize-winning songwriter’s back catalogue, but what is it about, and is it any good?
It’s set at a guesthouse in Bob Dylan’s hometown of Duluth in Minnesota in the 30s. The show follows the lives of the inn’s owner Nick and his wife Elizabeth as they welcome guests from all walks of life. They include a criminal boxer, a family torn apart and a Bible salesman. The local doctor narrates the piece which tells each of their stories, and tackles a variety of issues.
Fiona Mountford (Evening Standard, five stars) hailed it a “special piece of theatre”, while Michael Billington (The Guardian, five stars) praised McPherson’s direction, saying he has created “an astonishingly free-flowing production.”
But it is the music that really seemed to get the critics excited. Natasha Tripney (The Stage, four stars) says “Simon Hale’s musical arrangements are glorious” and blend of story and songs “works incredibly well”. Andrzej Lukowski (Time Out, four stars) adds that Hale’s arrangements are “ravishing” songs that build “through bare vocals then layered with fiddle and an omnipresent kick drum played by whatever member of the cast happens to be walking past.”
Praise too for the 19-strong cast. Billington says the cast, which includes Arinzé Kene, Ciarán Hinds and Ron Cook, and is “so uniformly strong it is tough to pick out individuals”.
Ben Brantley of the New York Times said: “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.”
Tripney, however, does think McPherson “crams in far too many characters”, and Dominic Cavendish (The Telegraph, three stars) says despite moments of brilliance, the show is “no full-on Bobby dazzler”.
But it is the music that appears to be the star of this show, featuring “songs such as “I Want You”, “Forever Young”, “Slow Train” and “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”. Tripney says: “In the end, the power of the music wins out and the show sends you out on a high.”