Review: Girl From the North Country at Milton Keynes Theatre
The story is utterly compelling and the acting from every single one of the large cast of characters is absolutely superb. No wonder it’s already collected several awards.
Music is by the legendary Bob Dylan – not that you’d recognise much of it from this laidback interpretation by one of the best bands in the business, the Howlin’ Winds.
And before we even get to the main event, a word of praise for Movement Director Lucy Hind.
The way the cast swirl on to the stage and morph into small gospel groups or stomp about in lavish dance numbers is mind-blowing. Cohesive, compelling – that word again – and simply magic to watch.
Girl From the North Country is set in Duluth, Minnesota (co-incidentally Dylan’s home town) in the Depression.
Initially the characters seem a pretty unlikeable bunch – two-timing landlord Nick Laine whose guesthouse is facing closure, his wife Elizabeth who has a form of dementia, their son Gene, prone to bouts of alcoholism, and adopted daughter Marianne, a black girl left on their doorstep 19 years ago and now five months pregnant.
Guests at the boarding house include widow Mrs Neilsen, hoping to cash in on her late husband’s estate, alleged Bible salesman Reverend Marlowe and boxer Joe Scott (both escaped criminals) and failed businessman Mr Burke, his flashy wife Laura and their son Elias who has learning difficulties.
In addition there’s pervy Mr Perry, a cobbler Nick is hoping will marry Marianne and narrator Dr Walker, physician to the Laine family.
But as the story unfolds, you identify with each and every one of them – their hopes, their dreams and the frailty of their flaws.
It’s theatre like you’ve never seen before – fluid, fascinating, heartbreaking, uplifting.
And the absolute scene-stealer is Frances McNamee as Elizabeth Laine. Her performance as someone caught up in the throes of dementia is mesmerising. And her version of Like a Rolling Stone, which closed the first half, was electrifying.
Colin Connor as Nick was an excellent foil to his troubled wife. Often exasperated, sometimes violent, but underneath it all a loving husband trying to hold it all together.
Gene (Gregor Milne) was totally credible as a binging alcoholic and Marianne sensitively portrayed by Justina Kehinde.
In fact each part was a joy – but the two characters I most enjoyed were Keisha Amponsa Banson as sassy widow Mrs Neilsen and Joshua C Jackson’s thoughtful and sympathetic rendition of Joe Scott, the former boxer trying to get back on the straight and narrow.
Top marks to writer director Conor McPherson – and no wonder the great Dylan himself said that being associated with him was one of the highlights of his professional life.
He added: “It goes without saying the man is a genius . . . and my songs couldn’t be in better hands.”
Don’t miss it – of all the musicals I’ve ever seen, this one will stay with me.
> Girl from the North Country is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday, November 19. Call the Box Office on 0844 871 7615