Girl From The North Country Review | The Lowry | Manchester
Playwright Conor McPherson’s sweet and honest journey through a guest house in Duluth follows a group of solo travellers sheltering from a storm.
With the backing of Bob Dylan’s catalogue bringing warmth to the shadowy characters, Girl From The North explores community and hope in times of deepest hardship. Set in 1934 with a stage shrouded in darkness, the Lowry audience is introduced to a 19-strong cast. This beautiful production follows owner Nick Laine (Colin Connor), his wife Elizabeth (Frances McNamee) and their two children who include a son and an adopted daughter. While much of the family float through life, struggling with dementia, an unwed teenage pregnancy and alcoholism, their spiral of despair is interrupted by the introduction of two newcomers staying at their residency.
Despite being set during the Great Depression and narrated by a doctor, McPherson’s production voices an optimistic tale that allows audiences to wander through Laine’s house of music which revisits Dylan’s lyrics through the eyes of a community living on a knife edge. With an open house setting, transparent walls and an onstage band, most of the cast unite to perform each track, allowing the characters and the music to merge into its rustic scenery.
After ex-boxer Jungle Joe Scott (Joshua C Jackson) and an opportunistic Reverent/Bible salesman named Marlowe (Eli James) decide to stay, the group’s personal stories begin to unfold, while new relationships develop. As three of the cast members also double as musicians on the minimalist stage, the assortment of tracks offered are a wonderful acoustic reworking of Dylan’s songs. The soundtrack offers memorable remixes that shift throughout the show, with Joshua and Frances offering standout, passionate performances that pull on the heartstrings. Several of Dylan's songs have been made famous by other artists including Jimi Hendrix (All Along The Watchtower) and Adele (Make You Feel My Love), but Girl From The North continues that tradition, bringing a folksy and soulful catalogue of Dylan’s music that helps elicit the sorrow and emotions of its huge cast of characters. Including the song Slow Train and Licence to Kill, the injection of music and McPherson’s dark humour resonates a compulsive message of community and an obligation to serve it, despite his guarded and worn characterisations.
While the story pokes fun at the land of the free, with the realities of ill health, malice and pure bad luck, the performances gradually move into group sequences that allow director McPherson to keep the pace and the mood moving in a positive momentum despite the dark journey.
Girl From The North offers gripping storytelling through its music and messaging, underlined by Dylan’s powerful and impactful lyrics and Macpherson’s vision to offer light in the bleakest of tunnels. It is a fantastic show and a reminder that there should always be a space for shelter and recovery.
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Tickets are available via the Lowry link