REVIEW: GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY @ THEATRE ROYAL PLYMOUTH
🎭 Girl From The North Country
📍 Theatre Royal Plymouth, Royal Parade, Plymouth, Devon, PL1 2TR
🗓 Tuesday 1st November 2022
I walked into the theatre last night not knowing what to expect. I did not know anything about this production other than the fact it uses the songs of Bob Dylan. I do not dislike the music of Dylan, but I'm not a fan of it either! As usual, I intentionally avoided reading any other reviews before I had seen the performance.
One thing to note is that The Girl From The North Country is not uplifting in any way, shape or form! That doesn't mean that it's bad, but if you're heading to the theatre to see this musical and are expecting a joyous, feel-good show, then you will be disappointed.
What you do get however is a masterclass in production values. The stage is used very well and the Theatre Royal stage is a big space to fill. Even when there is only one person on the stage, it doesn't feel empty. The set, designed by Rae Smith, is exceptional and just right for this performance.
Mark Henderson's lighting helps to create the somber atmosphere beautifully throughout and at times huge parts of the stage, and even some characters, are in near darkness. I did like how the performance started while the house lights were still up and these gradually faded throughout the first song.
From the production shots, I had assumed that this was a story of a girl who travels the country and follows her dreams to become a singer, but I could not have been more wrong! I think this came from the fact that when most characters sing, they actually step forward and sing at a standing microphone and perform to the audience. Although still in character, this is slightly odd but maybe it stems from the fact that in terms of linking the songs together, the story is very loose. There were a few occasions when I didn't quite get why a certain song was being sung!
The story centres around the Laine family in the 1930's, who are struggling to make ends meet as they run their boarding house. The father Nick, played at this performance by Graham Kent, is trying to hold things together while everything around him is crumbling. Kent gave a strong performance throughout and was utterly believable.
His wife Elizabeth was triumphantly portrayed by Frances McNamee. Elizabeth is obviously suffering from a mental disturbance and McNamee's characterisation was sensitive fantastically unwavering. She was on stage for almost the entire show and was utterly faultless. When it came to her vocals, she was breathtaking. By far the standout star of the piece for me, this show is worth seeing just to witness her fantastic performance.
Production Image: Frances McNamee as Elizabeth
Nick and Elizabeth have a son called Gene and a daughter called Marianne. Gene, portrayed by Gregor Milne, is not without his own troubles. Milne also had a great voice and you could feel every word he spoke and sang as he gave his all to the performance.
Marianne is not their biological child, which is evidenced from the fact that she is a different colour to her parents. References are made throughout about how rare it is at this time for a white couple to be raising a black child. At this performance the role of Marianne was played by Frankie Hart. At aged 19, she discovers she is pregnant and her father is trying to marry her off to Mr Perry (Teddy Kempner), a wealthy older gentleman. Instead she makes her own decision of who she wants to be with. Hart's portrayal is beautiful and we learn that she is pregnant by being forced to have sex against her will, but we never actually learn which character is responsible. My guest and I both had different theories about this when discussing the show afterwards!
As there seems to be quite a few stories happening simultaneously throughout, it feels that not all of them are rounded off and you're left to draw your own conclusions. In one way this is frustrating, but in another way it causes discussion and debate, which is what good theatre should do.
The other characters in the show are either guests in the boarding house or members of the community. It is a real ensemble piece and every character has the chance to shine.
There's too much happening for me to break down each and every character, but it's an interesting watch and during the interval, you definitely feel like you want to know what's going to happen next.
There are some wonderful vocals on display here and besides the aforementioned Frances McNamee, there were impressive vocal performances from Ross Carswell, Joshua C. Jackson, Maria Omankinwa and Rebecca Thornhill.
There is a small band that sit at the back of the stage and can be seen throughout but the actors also play. There's different characters on piano and drums at different times which really shows off the versatility and talent of this cast.
Production Image: Rebecca Thornhill performing at the drums
My feelings on this productions are kind of strange and confusing! This is because although I enjoyed it, I wouldn't want to see it again. It's quite dark in places and even though the production values are second to none and there are some fantastic vocal performances, I found the storyline itself quite weak at times and, as previously stated, I found it hard to understand why certain songs were being performed at certain times!
However, I would 100% recommend that you go and see this. If you're a lover of the theatre then you will enjoy this, just don't expect a high-octane feel-good night out! But, as I say, the production is beautifully put together and the entire company work so hard throughout and give stunning performances. This is truly a powerful piece of theatre.
The Girl From The North Country is at the Theatre Royal Plymouth until Saturday 5th November, with tickets still available for all performances. There is a 2:30pm matinee performance on Thursday and Saturday. Head to https://theatreroyal.com/whats-on/girl-from-the-north-country/#book to check availability and book tickets.
All views are my own and I pride myself on being honest and free from influence.
My tickets for this production were gifted by Theatre Royal Plymouth as I was invited to the press night to review the performance.
Production Image: Opening scene of Act 2