At first glance, Rae Smith's simple yet symbolic set, staging and costume of Girl from the North Country at New Wimbledon Theatre shows that the devil is in the details. It is sparse but that's the beauty of it - it is a true reflection of what the grim Great Depression Era (1934, Minnesota to be precise) was perceived to be. The constraints on life, attitudes to race, the effects of war and money are the steer to this story.
Conor McPherson has utilised Bob Dylan's voluminous back record to highlight every nuance of this moving tale - Nick and Elizabeth own a guest house that the bank wants to repossess, their son an alcoholic and their adopted teenage daughter, pregnant. The cast is plentiful both in talent and voice and when combined with the band (the Howlin' Winds), are a force to be reckoned with.
The first half was introductions of the characters, and their backgrounds with the only real common denominator being the Guesthouse. If only the walls could speak, the stories they would tell. Elizabeth is dishevelled, almost lost in her thoughts and words, frequently making sexual references and approaches to male characters that seem unwanted; she reports child abuse. Matched with Nick and his secret affair with Mrs Neilsen, he appeared as non-present, such was the strength of Graham Kent's acting, he was functioning in his actions but perhaps not so in his mannerisms, what a joy to watch him traverse the arc of his character.
Frances McNamee is the star of the show. Her rendition of Like A Rolling Stone is nothing less than sublime, easily triumphing her very thought-provoking portrayal of dementia.
This is simply a must-see production. There is never a dropped ball, the consistency and the pace in which the story travels - really deep diving into the weeds and then once floating on the surface, examining every light and dark shade of the production with care and sensitivity. Lots of themes are covered, prejudice, race, and sexism to name a few.
It's worth bearing in mind that this is not a jukebox musical despite Dylan's catalogue. However, it will leave you feeling just as upbeat and as uplifted as any other show theatreland has to offer.
It runs until 18 March.
Review: Kay Johal