Venue: Theatre Royal Sydney (Sydney NSW), 6 Jan – 27 Feb, 2022
Book: Conor McPherson
Music & Lyrics: Bob Dylan
Director: Conor McPherson
Cast: Tony Black, Peter Carroll, Tony Cogin, Laurence Coy, Terence Crawford, Helen Dallimore, Blake Erickson, Callum Francis, Elizabeth Hay, Peter Kowitz, Lisa McCune, Samantha Morley, Zahra Newman, Christina O’Neill, Grant Piro, James Smith, Greg Stone, Chemon Theys, Liam Wigney
Images by Daniel Boud
Characters of Girl from the North Country weave in and out of a Minnesota house, in 1934 when the Great Depression was in full force. Their stories are written by Conor McPherson, whose flair for sentimental nostalgia is put to good use, in this musical set to the songs of Bob Dylan. A kind of specific Americanness, found in its themes as well as in its style, might make the show feel somewhat distant to Australian sensibilities, but a transcendent beauty so present in all its creative considerations, almost bridges that cultural gap.
Although not always engaging, the work is certainly transportative. Directed by McPherson, Girl from the North Country takes us to another time and place, with a level of elegance rarely seen on our musical theatre stages. Mark Henderson’s lighting design, in collaboration with Rae Smith’s sets and costumes, offer up lush vistas that meld so wonderfully with musical director Andrew Ross’ reworking of Dylan’s songs. Lucy Hind’s sensitive choreography too is memorable, in a production that feels so confident yet remarkably understated.
The languid aesthetic is brought to manifestation by an endearing cast, including Peter Carroll, Lisa McCune and Zahra Newman, who deliver captivating personalities, in a show that is otherwise fairly resistant of our need to identify with its people and situations. Sublime singing from the likes of Callum Francis, Elizabeth Hay and Christina O’Neill pull us in, so that we can regard the heart and soul of these artistic renderings, at close proximation.
There are many moments of theatrical magic in Girl from the North Country, but there are also many instances where it leaves us unexpectedly cold. It includes an abundance of exquisite elements that amount to something best described as mellow. One would not be surprised to discover that the songs connect more than the stories do, in a work that stands most importantly, as a tribute to the legend that is Bob Dylan.