Review: Girl From the North Country – Royal Theatre, Sydney (NSW)

Written by Chantelle of Toasting Aussie Theatre in collaboration with Theatre Thoughts.
See the original review and wine pairing here.

Written & directed by Conor McPherson, music & lyrics by Bob Dylan, score and arrangement by Simon Hale, Conor McPherson

There’s a certain feel that imbues the classic American story. Nostalgia for the long-lost American dream, big skirts and gruff men, and people of all different races and class cohabitating peacefully create a fantasy of a time that never was – one that was simpler, kinder. Better. It’s an intoxicating breath of fresh air that whisks us away to a blissful era we wish was real and dream of finding our way back to someday. But of course, we can’t. Because in tandem with this idealism is the ultimate disillusionment and fall of the working man.

The music of Bob Dylan, filled with themes of love, loss, hope and despair, is well-suited to this genre. Pairing well with the events on stage, they also allow the small-town story to aspire to greater things.

Girl from the North Country transports you to 1934 Duluth, Minnesota, welcoming you as a fellow wanderer to the boarding house where its story takes place. From the first song, prepare to be swept up in the stories of the many characters that pass through the town, presented to you with nonchalant confidence that belies the need for bells and whistles.

Conor McPherson and Simon Hale do a beautiful job of distilling close to 50 years of Dylan’s original music, spanning 40 albums into a tight score of 22 songs…this musical pays homage to Dylan’s music, and celebrates the ability of music to transform

Dylan’s songs are ones to which we can all relate, giving us a variety of lenses through which we see each character’s flaws, and redeeming traits. The story pays homage to the golden age of radio as performers sing several songs on old-timey microphones, which also just slightly separate the music from the small-town story and highlight the timelessness of their words.

Girl from the North Country features a heavyweight cast including Lisa McCune, Zahra Newman, Helen Dallimore, Peter Carroll and Terence Crawford. McCune is a standout in this show, her portrayal of Elizabeth Laine relatable for anyone who has had a family member experience dementia or other degenerative diseases. Newman and Callum Francis have amazing chemistry as Marianne Laine and Joe Scott, and when they’re on stage you can’t tear your eyes off them. Really though, this paragraph could go on forever. There were no weak links in this cast.

As someone on the younger end of Gen Y, I actually didn’t know a lot of Bob Dylan music. The score sounds like it was written for Girl from the North Country rather than the other way around – and in a way, it was. Conor McPherson and Simon Hale do a beautiful job of distilling close to 50 years of Dylan’s original music, spanning 40 albums into a tight score of 22 songs, many of which are chopped and mashed together or whose underlying chords or melodic structure are altered to suit the play. This musical pays homage to Dylan’s music, and celebrates the ability of music to transform depending on the writer, context and audience all in one go.

This is not a show that requires you to know Dylan’s discography like the back of your hand or know anything about American theatre. I think in a way it hopes you don’t know all that much so that it can be your guide. Go in with an open mind and open ears and you’re in for a pretty special experience.


Girl From the North Country plays at Sydney’s Theatre Royal until 27th February. Tickets and information can be found here.
Photo Credits: Daniel Boud.

Creative Team
Written & Directed by CONOR McPHERSON
Music & Lyrics by BOB DYLAN
Associate Director KATE BUDGEN
Movement Director LUCY HIND
Lighting Design MARK HENDERSON
Sound Design SIMON BAKER
Orchestrations, Arrangements and Music Supervision SIMON HALE

Cast
Lisa McCune
Zahra Newman
 Terence Crawford
Helen Dallimore
Peter Carroll 
Christina O’Neill
Peter Kowitz
Elijah Williams
Greg Stone 
Grant Piro
Blake Erickson 
Elizabeth Hay 
James Smith 
Chemon Theys
Samantha Morley
Tony Black
Liam Wigney
Tony Cogin
Laurence Coy 

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