Review: Girl From The North Country, Wales Millennium Centre

The combined writing of Conor McPherson crossed with the lyrical genius of Bob Dylan has arrived at Wales Millennium Centre with Girl from the North Country.

Set In 1934, midway through America’s Great depression, Girl From The North Country finds a group of wayward souls cross paths in a time-weathered guesthouse. At a turning point in their lives, each soul who inhabits or visits the guesthouse regardless of status, colour or creed discover that they need to face the truth about their past and move into their future a changed person.

Writer, Conor McPherson weaves a web of multiple plotlines into Girl From The North Country with subject matter including Mental Health, racism, love, adultery, bereavement and crime, among others.

Inhabiting the same world as John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Tennessee Williams Glass Menagerie, Girl From The North Country also wears a cloak of depression. This metaphorical cloak is only released as the characters express their feeling and emotion through music. Interestingly, much of the music used here was created by Bob Dylan a few decades after The Great Depression, but when the compositions are stripped back to the roots you hear Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly bleeding through the performances, all of which add a sense of authenticity to the production.

Frances McNamee is outstanding in her role of Elizabeth Laine, a wife clearly struggling with mental health issues on the outside as her family appears to collapse around her with their own problems. Miss McNamee beautifully transports Elizabeth’s character into a place of freedom as she leads the ensemble in a rendition of Like A Rolling Stone, while demonstrating that despite outward appearances, strength and shrewdness are still maintained within.

Justina Kehinde delivers a powerful role as Marianne, the Laine’s stepdaughter who faces not only prejudice racially, but also by finding herself pregnant. While her step- father (Graham Kent) attempts to arrange a marriage with a mature businessman Mr Perry (Teddy Kempner), love appears unexpectedly in the form of a guest, ex-boxer, Joe Scott, played marvellously by Joshua C Jackson. The pairs chemistry is great to watch on stage and if there is a couple you wish to have a happy ending – it is this pair.

Maria Omakinwa as Mrs Neilsen and Rebecca Thornhill as Mrs Burke both give touching performances in their roles, while Gregor Milne steals several moments in his role as Gene, including delivering an outstanding version of Dylan’s I Want You. Ross Carswell also commands several scenes as Elias Burke, a grown man with childlike qualities. His performance of Duquesne Whistle remains one of the shows strongest moments.

Girl From The North Country is neatly tied up with a narrative by Chris McHallem’s Dr Walker, while the ensemble cast and musicians soulful, bluegrass approach to songs such as Tight Connection To My Heart and Hurricane, help move the narrative along. I really enjoyed the moments when the ensemble is seen singing through transparent walls, giving an image of singers in a far off studio, while actors performed a scene.

Girl From The North Country, certainly gives an interesting take on the Great depression, although I found some of the storyline overloaded in places, I really enjoyed the music. You’ll never hear the music of Bob Dylan the same way again!

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