What are you doing from Tuesday to Saturday, 14 to 18 February, next year? Yes, I know it is some time into the future, but I am compelled to advise you, even at this point in time, to make a plan to visit Belfast, and the Grand Opera House.
On those dates, you will have an opportunity to see Girl from the North Country, though between now and then it will be staged at many venues in Britain.
Whatever you do, make sure to treat yourself to one of the great theatre events of these times.
I am penning this in the immediate aftermath of seeing it at the 3Olympia Theatre in Dublin.
Combining the writing and directorial talents of Conor McPherson with the music and lyrics of Bob Dylan, what you get is a theatrical masterpiece. It has taken five years to have it available to Irish audiences, but I hope it will be back again, and again. Good news too is that the Broadway version has been filmed, and hopefully this will eventually be released.
The Olivier and Tony Award-winning Girl from the North Country is set in Duluth, Minnesota, a city on the shores of Lake Superior. It’s the winter of 1934 and America is in the grip of the Great Depression. Narrated by Dr Walker, physician to the Laine family who own a rundown guesthouse, this is a multi-layered story of the lives of many different individuals.
The bank is threatening to foreclose on the property, the owner Nick is desperate to save his family from homelessness, while his wife, Elizabeth, unforgettably played by Frances McNamee, is suffering from a form of dementia which ranges from deadpan detachment to uninhibited outbursts. Their children Gene and adopted daughter Marianne are both troubled.
There are sinister goings-on in the background, much of which are propelled centre-stage with the arrival late at night of a supposed Reverend and bible salesman, Marlowe, and a down-and-out boxer, Joe Scott. Their appearance changes everything for everyone in the house. Joshua C Jackson is outstanding in the role of Scott.
This piece will have you laughing and crying, feeling uncomfortable and spellbound. It will bring you through every imaginable emotion, and will leave you drained as the curtain falls. It benefits greatly from being staged in the intimacy of a smaller theatre, though the quality of the voices from the actors would fill a stadium.
As great as the actors, singers and musicians are, and the ensemble members are truly stars too, they have to compete with the talents of the creatives behind this production for praise. The choreography, lighting, sound and all the musical effects are impeccable, and this is a work that will have your eyes glued to the stage for the two acts, each lasting an hour. The music is live, played on instruments from the 1930s, and you do feel that you are part of the boarding house.
Nineteen works of Dylan are included in the show, some better known than others. Simon Hale won a 2022 Tony Award for best orchestration for Girl from the North Country. He should also have won a Grammy and Olivier.
This rates as one of my best theatrical experiences. Make sure you get to see it sometime.