Brett Herriot Review

Girl from the North Country, Edinburgh Playhouse, Review:

A challenging and engaging production

**** 4 Stars

Opening in London at the Old Vic in 2017, Girl from the North Country would successfully transfer to the west end and the Noel Coward Theatre. The Olivier award winning production went on to open on Broadway at the Belasco in 2020 earning both critical acclaim and the Tony Award. Now after a pandemic pause the production makes its first UK tour calling at the Edinburgh Playhouse until Saturday.

Telling the story of the Laine Family who run a guest house in Duluth, Minnesota on the shores of Lake Superior during the winter of 1934 at a time were America is ravaged by the great depression. The story is narrated by the family physician Dr Walker (Chris McHallem) and the patriarch Nick Laine (Colin Connor) is desperate for every penny as the bank threatens to foreclose. His life is complicated by his wife Elizabeth (a stunning performance from Frances McNamee) who is battling dementia that see’s her go from catatonic to childlike. What unfolds is a story of love, acceptance, racial bigotry, abuse, intertwining lives, survival and ultimately the human condition of hope.

The production features 22 songs from the greatest song writer of his generation Bob Dylan, but don’t expect it to be those familiar tunes as you know them as thanks to writer and director Conor McPherson and orchestrations and arrangements from Simon Hale. Dylan’s catalogue of hits is transformed into the most hauntingly beautiful soul, gospel and blues that are the true high point of the show. The music is the heart and soul of this show and the stellar cast deliver them with utter conviction and style that sweeps the audience along on the two and half hour journey of the show.

Macpherson’s direction is excellent and the stellar ensemble cast are a credit to him, there is not a weak performer amongst them,  however this a dark show in many ways and the story does get lost unless full attention is paid from the audience and the overall running time feels just a tad too long. There is strong element of this show being Marmite and while it won’t appeal to many musical theatre fans; this is very much a challenging and engaging production that lingers long after the curtain has fallen.

Production wise it’s a triumph, Rae Smith’s Scenic and Costume Design transports the audience easily to 30’s America and Mark Henderson’s lighting design provides both the light and the darkness with many subtle touches adding real authenticity.  Simon Baker’s sound design needs work, as not every line can be heard, but again subtle touches with sound pull the audience into the hear of the show.

The undoubted shining start of the show is the music, peerless vocals, astonishing harmonies,  powerful performances, accompanied by musical director Andrew Corcoran and his band “ The Howlin’Winds” along with many of the cast also playing instruments are the moments that the sear into the memory of this most refreshing of musical theatre productions.

If the storyline was clearer and the pacing a little quicker this would be a five star show, at the moment the Girl from the North Country truly exemplifies the power of theatre to move its audience and leave them with just a little more hope than in these dark times we are currently living in (not to dissimilar for many from the depression struck America of the 1930s) there is always love to be found and dreams of better times ahead. If you like your musicals to not just entertain but challenge you, then grabbing a ticket to Playhouse is essential before the Girl from the North Country heads out on the road once more.

Girl from the North Country, Edinburgh Playhouse Runs until Saturday 22nd October for tickets go to: Girl from the North Country Tickets | Edinburgh Playhouse in Edinburgh | ATG Tickets

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