Girl From North Country at Norwich Theatre Royal

Theatre review: Girl from the North Country at Norwich Theatre Royal

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Girl from the North Country has come to Norwich Theatre Royal, from 28th February to 4th March 2023. I was invited to see the show on opening night!

About the show

Celebrated playwright Conor McPherson (The Weir, The Seafarer) boldly reimagines the legendary songs of Bob Dylan, like you’ve never heard them before, in GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY. A heart breaking and universal story about family and love, hailed by the Observer as the ‘NO.1 THEATRE SHOW OF THE YEAR’.

It’s 1934 in the heartland of America and we meet a group of wayward souls who cross paths in a time-weathered guesthouse. Standing at a turning point in their lives, they realize nothing is what it seems. But as they search for a future, and hide from the past, they find themselves facing unspoken truths about the present.

Girl From North Country
Credit: Johan Persson

What did I think?

To start with, I knew next to nothing about this show before I turned up at the theatre on opening night. The most I knew was that it contained songs from Bob Dylan, although that really wasn’t something I was very knowledgable about either. Sometimes, it’s nice to go to see something with a completely open mind and that’s exactly what I did with this one.

Set in a Minnesota guest house in 1934, a time where things were far from easy. Run by Nick and Elizabeth, who have their own issues, they welcome in anyone needing a place to stay including newcomers Reverend Marlow and Joe Scott.

Firstly, I really appreciated the variety of characters in this show. Elizabeth has dementia and mental health plays a really large part in this one, the son Gene is an alcoholic and they also have Marianne, a non-biological daughter who is 19, black, pregnant with no one knowing who the father is. Staying at the guesthouse is Mrs Neilsen, who Nick is having an affair with and Mr and Mrs Burke and their son, who were once wealthy but not any more. It might sound a bit confusing with the number of characters however, it’s actually really easy to follow.

Girl From North Country
Credit: Johan Persson

The whole cast was absolutely phenomenal from the very first second right up to that last scene. For me, Frances McNamee (Elizabeth), Maria Omakinwa (Mrs Neilsen) and Joshua C Jackson (Joe Scott) were the standouts in this particular performance. Their voices just had that ‘something else’ feeling about them, that thing that gives you goosebumps when they sing.

Girl from the North Country is far from an easy watch. It tackles really tough subjects like mental health, racism, poverty and alcoholism, just to name a few. There’s a fair amount of adult language throughout, as well as some quite violent scenes so this is definitely not for the easily offended or shocked.

Even though there is such a serious feel to the story, there are plenty of comical moments to lighten things up. Elizabeth is such a wonderful character, saying exactly what she wants when she wants to. She brings a real honesty to the stage… and a bit of craziness too when she twirls and dances around, like she’s in a little world of her own.

Girl From North Country
Credit: Johan Persson

I’m not really that familiar with Bob Dylan’s songs, or at all actually. Girl from the North Country includes 20 of Dylan’s back catalogue ranging from 1963, all the way up to 2012. This is not the greatest hits show of Bob Dylan, instead, the songs were picked to work with the story and the characters. I might not have known the majority of the songs but they all felt absolutely perfect for that moment in the show.

You’ll find it hard not to fall in love not only with the cast, but the stories they are telling. I was drawn right into 1934 and the troubles people faced. I laughed with the characters and cried when things didn’t quite work out how I had hoped. I don’t know what I was expecting from Girl from the North Country but I left feeling emotional and absolutely blown away.

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