Gaming Editor Benjamin Oakden reviews Girl From The North Country and finds the production to use beautiful renditions of Bob Dylan’s songs, although the plotline is somewhat confusing
Girl From the North Country is a stunningly scored and produced musical let down by its confusing plot and overwhelming amount of side characters. The production, with its soundtrack taken entirely from Bob Dylan’s esteemed back catalogue, is a drama set within a guesthouse during the American Great Depression of the 1930s.
The soundtrack is filled with lovingly crafted renditions of Dylan’s songs, spanning almost the entirety of Dylan’s career from the 1960s to 2012. The production employs an excellent live band, with the beautiful fiddle in particular being a staple of the soundtrack. The version of Tight Connection to My Heart, with the violin playing, the powerful singing and the swelling harmonies, was absolutely spell-binding. Slow Train and Idiot Wind both feature surprisingly emotional versions with clever tempo changes.
The set too is excellently set up, perfectly capturing the essence of a dingy, depression-era hotel. The props are incredibly authentic, the smell of the characters’ food is allowed to waft through the theatre, although the decision to bring in a disco ball during one sequence was perhaps a little tacky.
I felt that the cast were also on-point, with them carrying much of the production’s drama while also being accomplished singers. Colin Connor plays the stress of guesthouse owner Nick Laine well, while Frances McNamee is excellent in portraying the mental problems of Elizabeth Laine, bringing the spirit of her character into her dancing and delivering a powerful ending monologue.
The main issue I had with Girl From the North Country was its plot, which was incredibly convoluted with too many characters and side-plots. Trying to sum up the storyline for this review is an incredibly daunting task, but it essentially involves the various stresses of depression era America on the large cast.
The main plot thread involves guesthouse owner Nick’s attempts to marry off his adopted daughter Marianne (Justina Kehinde) to the much older Mr. Perry (Teddy Kempner), and her alternative interest in boxer Joe Scott (Joshua C Jackson). That’s to say nothing of the multitude of side-plots and romances that go unresolved. There’s just too many themes, too many spinning plates, and the average viewer has no chance of learning all of the character names, never mind the baffling interconnected plot threads.
The soundtrack too, despite the wonderful arrangements, feels sadly underutilised within the context of the plot. Too often Dylan’s complex, metaphorical lyrics feel completely unrelated to the actual events of the story outside of brief lines in the chorus. The version of Like a Rolling Stone is sung to refer to loneliness, completely ignoring the lyrics referring to social class and homelessness.
The character of Joe Scott is seemingly inspired by the lyrics to Hurricane, but seems completely unrelated to the actual subject of the song, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, and the historical context around his arrest. The decision to set the story in the 1930s also separates the song from much of the historical context of Dylan’s writing. It ultimately feels like the Dylan songs, outside of a few brief references, are tacked on to an existing story in a desperate attempt to give it a broader appeal.
Given the potential for a genuine Bob Dylan musical, this sadly feels like a missed opportunity. This production is in many ways a technical marvel, with stunningly beautiful renditions of classic songs, great acting, and an authentically crafted set. But given its confusing story, unconvincing melodrama and under use of Dylan’s lyrics, this production is a mixed-bag.
Enjoyed this? Read more Redbrick Culture here!