Girl from the North Country: A gut-wrenching, glorious Bob Dylan musical ★★★★

Dylan's songs are brought to life in a spellbinding show starring Happy Valley's Shirley Henderson

Girl From the North Country

The music is so staggeringly beautiful in Conor McPherson’s play that you don’t have to be a Bob Dylan fan to feel knocked sideways by every note.

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Set in a guesthouse in Dylan’s home town of Duluth, Minnesota, Girl from the North Country tells the story of a group of lonely souls by using Dylan songs in unusual, soulful arrangements. The play had a sold-out run at London’s Old Vic theatre last year and has now transferred to the West End’s Noel Coward Theatre.

Shirley Henderson, who we last saw on TV as a sinister teacher in Happy Valley, plays guesthouse owner Nick’s (Ciaran Hinds) wife Elizabeth. Her early-onset dementia leaves her depressed, yet in her moments of lucidity she is wild – almost feral.  It’s a sad, funny and mesmerising performance.

Arinze Kene as Joe Scott (photos by Manual Harlan)
Arinze Kene as Joe Scott (photos by Manual Harlan)

Around Nick and Elizabeth roam and drift their guests. A black boxer unjustly imprisoned, a glamorous widow, a corrupt bible salesman and a family with a disabled son. The play is made up of fragments of their time in the boarding house, loose threads intermingled with haunting vocal performances from the cast.

Particularly compelling is Sheila Atim as Nick’s pregnant adopted daughter who sings Tight Connection to My Heart, delivering the line “has anybody seen my love” with understated but gut-wrenching beauty, and Henderson’s rendition of Like A Rolling Stone like you’ve never heard it before. Some of the best moments are when the women come together with their vocals and their tambourines and produce harmonies that loop around your mind for hours afterwards.

The atmospheric staging coupled with the power of the music makes for a glorious show full of impressive talent. There were standing ovations all round.

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At Noel Coward Theatre until 24 March

Book tickets for Girl from the North Country and other West End shows from Radio Times Box Office