Girl from the North Country
| By Sandra Howell
(Updated on Jan 26, 2018)
Girl from the North Country, a cleverly crafted musical, presents us with multi-layered interrelated stories about the lives of people renting rooms in a boarding house in 1934 Minnesota. Writer-Director Conor McPherson’s intelligently written script encompasses at least 10 life-changing issues in the lives of the guests living and passing through the boarding house including: Jim Crow racism, The Great Depression, Mental illness including depression, Child abuse, Living with and caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, Adultery, Childhood Trauma, Teen Pregnancy, alcohol and drug misuse and addiction, and parent-carers of an adult child with severe learning disabilities.
Conor McPherson skilfully interweaves the different narratives of the boarders and boarding house owners to create a fascinating tapestry of their troubled lives. Simon Hale’s superb musical arrangements of Bob Dylan’s songs vary in style and tempo from folk-country to rock-country extending to a soulful kind of RnB. This allows the actors to sing songs which suit: their own voices, the personalities of their characters and the era. It is packed with outstanding performances from the talented cast of actors/singers/musicians/dancers, whose portrayals of well-developed and authentic characters are reflected in their distinctive vocal styles. My favourite musical numbers include: Went to See the Gypsy, Tight Connection/Has Anybody Seen My Love, Slow Train, Forever Young, Like a Rolling Stone/ To Make You Feel My Love, I Want You and What Can I Do For You. I like it so much I want to buy the Girl from the North Country soundtrack.
Sheila Atim is an amazing talent; her rich vocals reveal the warmth and depth of Marianne’s personality. Shirley Henderson utilises her brilliant acting and singing to realistically show the flashes of lucidity and insight which interrupt periods of incomprehension, unpredictability, disinhibition, violence and catatonic trances often experienced by people living with Alzheimer’s. Debbie Kurup has a powerful voice, her Mrs Neilsen at first appears to be a schemer, but she’s a survivor. Ciarán Hinds’ Nick Laine is convincing as a man haunted by a traumatic childhood who is on the verge of bankruptcy trying to make it through the only way he knows how, by letting rooms in his boarding house. His misguided attempt to help secure a future for his pregnant adopted daughter, Marianne, thankfully, fails. Arinzé Kene has a gorgeous voice and excels as Joe Scott who lives under the shadow of a devastating incident which occurs as a direct result of the legally sanctioned racism of the period. He seizes a second chance.
Traumatic events haunt the lives of all the protagonists of Girl from the North Country which leaves an underlying feeling of melancholy throughout the play. But there is a lot of humour and wit. Ultimately, the future is hopeful for some of the key characters.