Conor McPherson’s Girl from the North Country: What is it about?

The Old Vic proudly presents the world première of Girl from the North Country, opening in July.  The electrifying new show full of hope, heartbreak and soul, from award-winning playwright Conor McPherson, features the iconic songbook of Bob Dylan, including classics such as ‘Sweetheart Like You’ and ‘You Aint Going Nowhere’. 

What’s it about?
It’s 1934 in Duluth, Minnesota. A close-knit community, living life on a knife-edge, huddles together in their local guesthouse. Nick, the guesthouse owner, owes more money than he can ever repay; Elizabeth, his wife, is losing her mind, and Marianne, their daughter, is carrying a child that no-one will account for. When a boxer looking for a comeback and a preacher selling bibles show up at their doorstep in the middle of the night, things begin to spiral beyond the point of no return.

So is it a play? Is it a musical?
Girl from the North Country is a production with music; Conor McPherson emphasises that it is not a compilation of Bob Dylan’s greatest hits, nor a West End blockbuster in which the plot is driven by the music, but actually a ‘conversation’ between the story and Dylan’s classics.

Is the production biographical to Dylan?
It isn’t. However, it is set in the place where he was born (Duluth, Minnesota) in the 1930s, the period from which a lot of music that inspired Dylan (Woody Guthrie) was produced.

Is the music live?
Yes, there is a live band, comprised of 4 musicians playing piano, double bass, guitars and strings. Some actors will also be performing musical instruments on stage, including drums, tambourines and harmonica. Jack Shalloo (who plays Elias Burke) has learnt the harmonica for the role!

The cast members will also be using many original instruments from the period in which the production is set, including a 1930s drum kit and piano.

So who is the girl from the North Country?
The title is less descriptive than suggestive. Without giving too much away, it could refer to a number of characters.

Is the music in the style of Bob Dylan?
Some of the music is in Dylan’s style; however, you’ll see (and hear) a wide variety of styles throughout the performance. Some songs will perhaps feel more souly – and some more folky. There will be big ballads, similar to those performed in more mainstream musicals, and some songs that will be a little more stripped back and bare.

The company of Girl from the North Country recently performed extracts from the show in a recent workshop. Listen to them here.

Has Bob Dylan had any involvement in the production?
No more than a few days after Conor McPherson sent Bob Dylan’s management an outline of the production, he received an email from them saying:

‘Bob Dylan has read it, likes it, and is happy for you to go ahead.’

Shortly after, a parcel enclosing 40 Dylan albums arrived at his door, including a note specifying that he could use any songs in any way he liked.

Will Bob Dylan be seeing the production?
Conor McPherson and the team have worked very closely with Bob Dylan’s management on the genesis of the show, and will, of course, be inviting him!

Playing from Sat 8 Jul – Sat 7 Oct 2017, book tickets for Girl from the North Country now.

3 thoughts on “Conor McPherson’s Girl from the North Country: What is it about?

  • The lyrics, the music and the singing are all good enough to survive, overcome even, the script, the plot and the staging. This means they are very, very good indeed, but then, they combine Bob Dylan’s genius and some powerful and expertly used (and miked) voices. The acting isn’t quite as good as that, but the spoken words never defeat the speakers, even when they disappoint the audience.
    The plot is a derivative, self-satisfied and self-indulgent collection of sentimental and defeatist cliches (a wise doctor presented straight for God’s sake) utterly divorced from the reality and courage of the lyrics. Dylan is the artist of twentieth century affirmation, this musical feels sorry for itself.
    The cast are all great, Shirley Henderson and Sheila Atim in particular get the timing as well as the notes spot on, but the total mismatch between Dylan’s all-encompassing perspective and McPherson’s limited frame of reference pulls the whole thing down.


  • Will Girl from the North Country be coming to Manchester at all as I cannot make it to London until late October.
    Yours Mr Carl Kukla.


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