Music Theatre

Girl From the North Country review [Melbourne 2022]

Artfully conceived and oh so lovingly crafted, Girl From the North Country tempers a heart rending narrative with the heart soothing balm of more than twenty exquisitely arranged Bob Dylan songs. 

Expertly realising an ingenious concept, renowned playwright Conor McPherson pens a concise yet heavily populated play and then threads an organic tapestry of beautiful music between the scenes. Contributing gorgeous orchestrations and arrangements, music supervisor Simon Hale works hand in glove with McPherson to perfectly position Dylan’s poetic songs throughout the play.

Also serving as director, McPherson takes his time to introduce the myriad characters, residents of a depressing depression-era boarding house. McPherson’s work takes flight in act two, with some of the most wondrous scenes involving the full company of 18, as the residents buzz and hum in each other’s company. There is not a wasted action nor is there a soul on stage not in full possession and absolute control of their character. 

Musical director Andrew Ross works miracles with four musicians, seen onstage throughout the show. Instrumental work is boosted by occasional playing from the cast. Vocal harmonies are at a premium and are a real highlight of the show. 

The sepia-toned design is an ideal fit for the Comedy Theatre, the relatively intimate venue also facilitating the audience’s connection to the tender humanity of the characters.

Marquee star Lisa McCune becomes just one of a very talented troupe here, with more than a dozen characters brought vividly to life by the ensemble cast. McCune plays against her sweetheart type as dementia-sufferer Elizabeth Laine, a woman as prone to inappropriate outbursts as she is to catatonic silences. In lovely vocal form, McCune memorably sings Dylan hits “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Forever Young.”

As Elizabeth’s exasperated husband Nick Laine, Peter Kowitz adopts a rather exhausting raspy voice, but creates a strong character at the centre of several of the stories. 

Nick and Elizabeth’s adopted daughter Marianne maintains an intriguing air of secrecy about her pregnancy, a potentially melodramatic aspect that is neatly underplayed by Chemon Theys. Theys enjoys sweet romantic chemistry with Elijah Williams, who convincingly projects the hesitant vulnerability beneath the physical strength of boxer Joe Scott. 

Long term residents, the Burke family features Greg Stone and Helen Dallimore as loving parents financially ruined and long worn down to their last nerve caring for learning disabled son, Elias. Stone delivers a riveting extended scene in act two when Mr Burke implodes from the crippling weight of a terrible secret. Also hitting the drums, Dallimore is heard in lovely voice, particularly in “Is Your Love in Vain?”. Affectingly conveying Elias’ loving nature, Blake Erickson also smashes out showstopper “Duquesne Whistle” to rousing effect.

In a company of gifted singers, Christina O’Neill stands out, her delectable, richly expressive vocal tone sounding lovelier than ever in these wonderful arrangements. 

Girl from the North Country may fit the technical definition of a jukebox musical but theatregoers expecting something akin to fuzzy feel-good fluff like Mamma Mia! will be sorely disappointed. This is a serious, slow-burning adult musical of the quality rarely seen in the commercial arena. Bob Dylan’s multitudinous fans will thrill to the musical quality of the sterling performances of these illuminating arrangements.

Girl From the North Country plays at Comedy Theatre, Melbourne until 4 June 2022. For tickets, click here.

Girl From the North Country plays at Canberra Theatre Centre from 25 August 2022.

Girl From the North Country plays at Lyric Theatre, Brisbane from 8 September 2022.

Man in Chair reviewed the 2018 West End production of Girl From the North Country.

Photos: #1,#2,#3,#5,#6 Daniel Boud; #4 Matt Byrne

9 replies »

  1. As a regular theatre goer I found this whole performance tedious and mind numbingly stupid. Whilst I can admire the technical skill of the actors the I found the whole performance underwhelming and turgid in the extreme. Unfortunately first rate actors and singers and musicians performing a overhyped third rate hodgepodge left me cold.

    If you want musical genius see a performance of Sondheim, a Little night music, or Gershwin, Porgy and Bess, or even Phantom of the Opera, not this over promoted mess of musical and lyrical contradictions.

    • Thanks, Argus.
      To be honest, I felt like you when I first saw this show in London. You will see what I mean if you look at my West End review.
      Watching again here, I viewed it more as a play and found it worked better.
      I agree that regular musical theatre is a superior format (compared to a jukebox play with songs) but it is nice to have some variety on offer and great for Bob Dylan fans.
      I agree that the show might have been marketed more clearly towards what it actually is.

      • Totally agree, Argus Tuft. I had to persuade my husband not to leave at the interval. The songs in the second half made it way better than the first!

  2. I thought the play was excellent. An interesting well-represented story of that time, excellent musical performances from a range of actors. Very impressive.

  3. My wife and I did leave at the interval, both of us could not understand what it was about, the actors where just shouting their over acted lines instead of talking, it all seemed very aggressive, the song’s were cabaret using Dylan’s lyric’s but were in no way related the the to the fragmented storyline ‘they could have used Elvis songs and called the show Rock around the Clock’ This is just about the worst show that I have ever seen, although the marketing is Fabulous, every time I see the over hyped ad’s for the show , it makes me want to spent another $150.00 and try again. My be tis show should be called “The Kings New Clothes!.

    Roger Green.

  4. Very disappointed with the show. The story line was going nowhere and hard to follow at times. Not sure if we were meant to laugh every now and then or not ! Over acting and shouting by the lead male roll. Lovely female voices. My husband and I left at interval. Never before have we done that. All shows/performances we had seen at QPAC have been wonderful and very professional. We usually enjoy Bob Dylan’s music, but sadly not this time.

    • I am exceedingly disappointed that this appalling show is continuing around the country presumably using the same click bait advertising which was used to fool Victorians into going to the show. The promoters should be ashamed of themselves.

      As an active theatre goer for over fifty years, this would be the most disappointing performance I have ever experienced.

      I am reassured by the negative comments above that my judgement does not appear to have been misplaced.

  5. I completely agree with the above comments.

    The music and arrangements are the only positive of this production. Sadly many theatre goers were probably sucked in by the association of Bob Dylan’s music, which seems out of place in a setting 30-40 years before it was topical.

    The grating ascents and over acting was just plain hard work to sit through for 2 1/2 hours, and the colloquial pseudo-Americana was very hard to identify with. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people leave during the interval of a show. I kept on looking at my watch throughout, hoping it would end soon, or come to an uplifting climax. But sadly everyone shuffles of their mortal coil for one reason or another.

    The plot, or lack there of, was tedious, complicated and hard to follow. It felt like there weren’t any light or shade moments, and it was incredulously dark for the whole show. Maybe the music was meant to be used to mitigate this.

    Hopefully more theatre goers will read thess reviews before making the mistake of spending their hard earned dollars on a show that is sold as being uplifting and engaging, when it’s the exact opppsite. I really got the sense that we weren’t allowed to clap after some of the great numbers. So weird.

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