Saturday, August 27, 2022

Girl From The North Country


Girl From The North Country.  Presented by GWB Entertainment, Damien Hewitt and Trafalgar Entertainment in association with Canberra Theatre Centre, August 25 – September 3, 2022.

Reviewed by Frank McKone, August 26

Creatives: reproduced below.  Original production opened at The Old Vic, London, 2017.

Cast - Australia (alphabetical order):
Mr Perry – Peter Carroll; Dr Walker – Terence Crawford
Mrs Burke – Helen Dallimore; Elias Burke – Blake Erikson
Katherine Draper – Elizabeth Hay; Nick Laine – Peter Kowitz
Elizabeth Laine – Lise McCune; Mrs Neilsen – Christina O’Neill
Reverend Marlow – Grant Piro; Gene Laine – James Smith
Mr Burke – Greg Stone; Marianne Laine – Chemon Theys
Joe Scott – Elijah Williams

Ensemble – Tony Black, Tony Cogin, Laurence Coy, Grace Driscoll,
Samantha Morley, Liam Wigney

Musical Director – Andrew Ross; Acoustic and Slide Guitar – Cameron Henderson
Bass – James Luke; Violin and Mandolin – Pip Thompson

Peter Carroll as Mr Perry
in Girl From The North Country
Australian Tour 2022

Girl From The North Country is about failure – economic failure; failure to find love (Mr Perry, Joe Scott, the Laine family and Mrs Burke at least); social collapse.  The play has no plot because when “The Depression grabbed hold of Minnesota” the people’s lives, as presented by Conor McPherson, had nowhere to go “Like a Rolling Stone”.

There is a beginning as Nick Laine offers rooms; and an end as people who stayed there had no choice but to move on – without the money to pay Nick.  According to Dr Walker, the narrator of these sad times, Nick and his demented wife Elizabeth themselves left Minnesota as the bank foreclosed on their house.

The structure of the play is actually rather like Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and her Children.  Episodes are interrupted by songs, which, often in an oblique way, reflect on social, even political, life.  Here, though, characters sing songs by Bob Dylan as if still in role in the American Musical tradition.  The distancing effect is rather less, then, than the estrangement effect (Verfremdungseffekt or V-Effekt) in Brecht’s work.

In addition the movement choreography and dance sequences (highly original and performed by the whole cast with great flair) become fascinating entertainment in their own right.  

So I find myself in two minds about the purpose of Girl From The North Country.  Am I to become empathetically engaged in the dreadful state of the lives of these people; or am I to take Bob Dylan’s songs as the focus for the criticism of American life, in the rather dry, almost cynical mood that I remember so well from his early songs when still in his acoustic folk-scene stage?  

Though I marvel at the quality of the acting, singing, music performance and strength of theatre design, my two minds remain divergent rather than finding a composite resolution which might turn this ‘Art Musical’ into a great and powerful work of art.  I note that Conor McPherson began writing “I’m thinking of an expansive Eugene O’Neill type play with Bob Dylan’s love songs intertwined”.  A great idea I think, but I have to say in return that Girl From The North Country is no match for Mourning Becomes Electra.