Set in Minnesota during 1934, with the country in the grip of the Great Depression, Girl From The North Country centres around a guesthouse, owned by Nick Laine and the guests staying within it. Each of the characters is enduring something: Elizabeth has dementia, her daughter Marianne is pregnant, Mrs Neilson is widowed, and The Burkes are broke and struggling to cope with their son Elias’ learning disabilities.

Credit: Johan Persson

Rae Smith’s set aptly encapsulates a 1930s guesthouse, with props and furniture of the period – however, the large images displayed confuse the storytelling somewhat, as we are unsure of where the scene is set. An example of this is in a scene which occurs by a lake; an image of the lake is therefore displayed, but this remains in the next scene, which plays out back at the guesthouse.

Conor McPherson’s book tells a poignant story, with some witty, humorous lines peppered within, but a link is missing between the songs and the story. The music does not progress the plot and there’s a disjointed feel as musical numbers are sometimes performed by characters who walk on stage and begin singing – not always the characters already within the scene. However, I cannot fault the vocal performances, which are stunning across the board. The cast sound especially good, and powerful when in unison, and the four-piece band positioned on stage, are joyful to watch.

McPherson’s book contains too many characters, which subsequently means that we never get to know any of them fully, making emotional investment incredibly difficult. Therefore emotional events which play out in front of us have a somewhat diluted impact, as we are detached from the characters on stage. Some characters could be omitted from the show and the plot would be unaffected. Currently, there are too many strands of storylines which require finessing or condensing to construct a more cohesive piece, as there are storylines which are easily forgotten as soon as the scene ends.

Credit: Johan Persson

The story is promising and contains some interesting points, but lacks nuance in its current form. I struggle to see the need for the music within the show, and I’m confident that this show would work better as a play, as cutting the songs would mean more time can be focused on the characters, allowing them to become fully dimensional, and make more of an emotional impact on the audience.

The star of the show is Frances McNamee who plays Elizabeth Laine, she embodies the character, bringing her to life and wonderfully playing a person living with dementia, portraying all the symptoms and the inability to regulate emotions spectacularly – McNamee steals every scene she is in.

Bob Dylan’s music is almost unrecognisable in the orchestrations by Simon Hale. Some of Dylan’s greatest hits are missing or barely incorporated, which seems a strange choice. But I do commend them for creating a jukebox musical unlike any other. It’s a bold move and creates a unique show, but there are some tweaks to be made for this to be a fully cohesive piece of theatre. At the moment I think you’re either going to love it…or not.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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