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A review round-up for Girl From The North Country and The Old Vic Theatre

Conor McPherson’s highly anticipated new play set to Bob Dylan’s back catalogue has opened to rave reviews at The Old Vic Theatre.

An original story set in Dylan’s home town of Duluth, Minnesota, in 1934, the show uses Dylan’s songs to reinforce the mood of desperation and yearning that characterised America in the Depression era.

Sung by a 19 strong cast, Simon Hale’s musical arrangements are delivered such that its like hearing the lyrics afresh.

With a strong ensemble cast, standout performances include Ciarán Hinds, Shirley Henderson, Stanley Townsend and Bronagh Gallagher.

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Read our round-up of reviews from The Guardian, Evening Standard, Daily Telegraph, The Stage and The Times below.

Girl From The North Country will runs until 7 October 2017 at The Old Vic Theatre.

REVIEWS ROUND-UP

STAR RATING Evening Standard

‘it is, beguiling and soulful and quietly, exquisitely, heartbreaking. This is, in short, a very special piece of theatre.’

‘It resembles nothing so much as a collection of meticulously rendered short stories, soaked in quiet melancholy. There’s a faint shimmer of self-conscious American mythologizing – was poverty really ever so poetically elegant?– but no matter. Because then there’s the music.’

‘This is Dylan like we’ve never heard him before, 20 songs sculpted into plaintive but beautiful new arrangements by Simon Hale. Some numbers are familiar, others less so, but nearly all are delivered so hauntingly well by the 20-strong company that they send shivers down the spine as we hear the lyrics afresh. ‘

Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard

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STAR RATING The Guardian

‘A superb cast use Bob’s back catalogue to glorious effect in Conor McPherson’s astonishing cross-section of hope and stoic suffering in Depression-era Minnesota’

‘Because the songs are so good, it is easy to overlook the economy and skill with which McPherson evokes the mood of 1930s America: the racism that leads the black boxer to be alternately insulted and exploited, the poverty that has highways lined with people living in tents. As director, McPherson has created an astonishingly free-flowing production and the 19-strong cast, which includes three musicians, is so uniformly strong it is tough to pick out individuals.’

‘The songs are drawn from every decade of Dylan’s extensive catalogue, and are presented as visible “numbers”.. At the same time, they articulate the characters’ innermost feelings.’

Michael Billington, The Guardian

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STAR RATING The Daily Telegraph

‘I have to confess to being a mite underwhelmed by this valiant and undeniably accomplished effort to do something more oblique and intriguing with songs that will outlive us all. McPherson has shepherded some 20 tracks – most of them not obvious choices – into a populous, otherworldly play that combines the hard grit of the great Depression with something numinous and mysterious.’

‘The evening has a distinct air of déjà-vu about it..We get shades of Long Day’s Journey Into Night in the fraught family set-up of Ciaran Hinds’s work-sapped proprietor Nick; there’s a couple whose simple-witted son has attacked a girl in the woods, a nod – voluntary or otherwise – to Of Mice and Men. And the meta-theatrical approach, with Ron Cook’s amiable old Dr Walker taking to a retro stand-microphone to introduce these troubled folk, is redolent of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town (1938).

‘There are moments of infectious almost evangelical rapture, particularly at the start of the second half (You Ain’t Going Nowhere heralding an outbreak of Thanksgiving jiving) and there’s a sublime closing rendition of Forever Young that helps bring the tale to a will o’ the wisp end.’

Dominic Cavendish, Telegraph

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STAR RATING The Stage

‘McPherson crams in far too many characters. The Laines’ drunken son Gene has a love interest, but she gets merely a handful of lines and half a song before she’s forgotten. The great Ron Cook is underused as a narrator, and the story itself is three parts spun sugar to one part social commentary. Sentimentality and cliche abound. Yet this all matters less than it might because the cast is superb. There’s not a weak link among them.’

‘Ciaran Hinds is gruff yet vulnerable as Nick, while Shirley Henderson is small and far away as Elizabeth. On one hand it’s the performance you might expect from her, but then she unleashes this mighty voice from her small frame for her rendition of Like a Rolling Stone. Sheila Atim displays a similar vocal prowess as the Laines’ daughter Marianne, while Arinze Kene, as the boxer Joe, has magnetism to spare and a voice that could melt – well, pretty much anything.’

‘Simon Hale’s musical arrangements are glorious and the mixture of story and song works incredibly well.’

Natasha Tripney, The Stage

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STAR RATING The Times

‘This is not, just to set the record straight, Bob Dylan the Musical. You don’t need to know his songs to fall for this play by Conor McPherson, which includes 20 of them. But if you do know them well, as I do, then there are moments when you can just close your eyes and melt into the night. And, it must be said, though possibly in a whisper, that almost all are more enjoyable because the man himself is not singing them’

Ann Treneman, The Times

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