Girl From The North Country at the Old Vic received 4.1-star average pro reviews, including five fives. Fiona Mountford (ES) described “not, rest assured, the Bob Dylan musical, but rather a play” with songs “silkily interwoven”. Paul Taylor (Independent) explained that “Dylan’s team… approached Conor McPherson” declaring, “their instinct… sound”. Michael Billington (Guardian) saw McPherson’s trademark “sense of unfulfilled longing” manifest here in “a run-down guesthouse” in Dylan’s hometown in 1934 “where everyone is staring into a bleak future…”
Taylor noted “a wide cross-section of society” and Billington hailed the “economy and skill” with which McPherson “evokes the mood… the racism… the poverty”. Taylor detected “conscious echoes of Eugene O’Neill and Thornton Wilder” but didn’t think it “ersatz or dwarfed by the superlative songs”. But Natasha Tripney (The Stage) counted “far too many characters” and thought the story “three parts spun sugar to one part social commentary”. Billington found McPherson’s own production “astonishingly free-flowing” and Mountford described a “slow-burn… unafraid to unfold to its own unhurried rhythms” likening it to “meticulously rendered short stories, soaked in quiet melancholy”.
Tripney observed McPherson “avoids ticking all the obvious boxes” instead “picking the songs that best sync with the story”. She thought setting it before Dylan’s lifetime “frees” McPherson to explore “the seeds from which Dylan’s songwriting sprang”. Billington felt “the constant dialogue between the drama and the songs” made it “exceptional” noting that, staged “with the actors often singing into stand-microphones,” the songs both “articulate the characters’ innermost feelings” and “reinforce the mood”. Mountford saw them “sculpted into plaintive but beautiful new arrangements” by Simon Hale. Taylor found these “ravishing” and Tripney “glorious”. Taylor declared “the idea… inspired” and “the treatment piercingly beautiful”.
He saw a “superb company” bring the space “to heartfelt life” and Billington judged the performers “uniformly strong”. Tripney detected “not a weak link” and Mountford heard songs “delivered so hauntingly well… they send shivers down the spine” hailing “Dylan like we’ve never heard him before”.
Most praise was showered on Shirley Henderson. Billington found her “mesmerizing” and Taylor saw the character “stunningly played” and found her Like A Rolling Stone “laceratingly lovely, performed with mighty vocal and moral heft”. Mountford hailed a “wonderful voice”, defying “anyone to sit through” her Forever Young “without sobbing”.
Taylor acknowledged an “excellent” Ciaran Hinds, and Billington found him “striking”. Taylor also “particularly enjoyed” Sheila Atim as their daughter, Billington admired her “fine work” and Tripney hailed “vocal prowess”. Several highlighted Arinze Kene; Tripney reported “magnetism to spare and a voice that could melt – well, pretty much anything”. She thought “the great Ron Cook… underused”.
Billington thought this “fruitful creative marriage” had produced “a remarkable fusion of text and music”. Tripney admitted “the power of the music wins out” and “sends you out on a high”. Mountford found it “beguiling and soulful and quietly, exquisitely, heartbreaking… a very special piece of theatre”. Both she and Taylor judged it “Magnificent”.
Booking to 07 Oct 2017 with tickets from £33 available via StageScan. And for another unusual fusion of play and gig, you can still catch Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill – we have tickets from £15.