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Girl From The North Country - Nottingham Review

In his programme notes writer and director Conor McPherson discusses the challenge of writing a musical containing Bob Dylan's back catalogue, an idea he initially dismissed, but thankfully he persisted and now the Olivier and Tony Award-winning musical Girl From The North Country embarks on it's first UK and Ireland tour.

The Company of Girl From the North County. Photo by Johan Persson.

Unusually though for a musical the songs are more stand-alone moments delivered directly to the audience rather than sung character to character. McPherson brilliantly describes it as "a conversation between the songs and the story" and that captures the show perfectly. The music is outstanding and sits perfectly side by side with this quite human tale of a variety of characters.

The plot is centered around a guesthouse in 1930s Duluth in Minnesota. Its owner Nick and dementia-suffering Elizabeth, who isn't afraid to say what she thinks. In the era of the Depression, the duo are facing financial ruin.

In their guesthouse lives their son, a drunkard, and their adopted black daughter who is pregnant but manless. The collection of guests varies from a boxer who has escaped from prison, a seedy preacher, a doctor who is a self-confessed morphine addict, and a couple whose son has learning difficulties.

The action moves at quite the pace that only really settles in the second act and with a lot happening it can be at times difficult to fully gauge what is happening with some of the characters but at all times it's watchable and really connecting.

The music with orchestrations and arrangements by Simon Hale with additional arrangements by McPherson is given a beautiful new life. Dylan's lyrics land superbly alongside the four-piece band called 'The Howlin' Winds' alongside the cast of actor-musicians make a beautiful sound. There's is heart and feeling to every number. There are some gorgeous harmonies between the cast who all excel vocally and in acting. 

Frances McNamee as Elizabeth Laine in Girl From The North Country. Photo by Johan Persson.

The stand-out performance comes from Frances McNamee as Elizabeth Laine, she is mesmerising to watch and you often have to keep one on her regardless of what else is happening. She carries the dementia well as no fear holds back what she says which often adds some light comedy. She pours her soul into 'Like A Rolling Stone' which is amazingly performed.

Justine Kehinde also hugely impresses as Marianne Laine, she battles off advances by sleazy Mr Perry played by Teddy Kempner, who preys on the vulnerable. There's a lovely connection between Kehinde and boxer Joe Scott played by a commanding Joshua C. Jackson. 

There were a couple of understudies performing at the performance I attended with Owen Lloyd making his debut as Gene Laine. Lloyd give a strong well-rounded performance which you wouldn't have known was his debut in what is his first professional show. Nichola MacEvilly covered Mrs Neilson with sublime vocals and Neil Stewart covered Mr Burke.  

Girl From The North Country delivers a human tale invigorated with Dylan's poetically lyrical numbers given an often toe-tapping new life. A magnificent piece of escapism.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 

Girl From The North Country plays at Nottingham's Theatre Royal until Saturday 15th October. Tickets are available from The show tours with dates booking through until March 2023. Visit for full dates and booking details.

The Company of Girl From The North Country. Photo by Johan Persson.

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