Ex­quis­ite sound­track is un­miss­able for Bob Dy­lan fans

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - THE­ATRE JOHN NATHAN The Girl From The North Coun­try Mosquitos

Old Vic

THE JUKE box mu­si­cal is a some­what de­rided form of the­atre, with barely a pop star on the planet whose back cat­a­logue hasn’t been jem­mied into a plot. But this ex­quis­ite show, fea­tur­ing the mu­sic of Bob Dy­lan and at­tach­ing it to a play writ­ten by Conor McPher­son (who also di­rects) is a com­pletely dif­fer­ent an­i­mal.

For a start, this is Dy­lan’s mu­sic as you have never it heard be­fore. Clas­sics such as Like A Rolling Stone and lesser known tracks such Tight Con­nec­tion to My Heart are rein­vented so gor­geously I’m not sure I would ever want to re­turn to the ver­sions Dy­lan recorded.

Here, the songs be­come the sound­track to the eclec­tic lives of those holed up in a hostelry in de­pres­sion­era Du­luth, Min­nesota, the town in which Dy­lan was born in 1943.

Ciaran Hinds’s Nick is the land­lord and long-suf­fer­ing hus­band to El­iz­a­beth who suf­fers from early on­set de­men­tia.

They have an adopted black daugh­ter Mar­i­anne (a su­perb Shela Atim), which sub­verts all the as­sump­tions one might make about fam­ily life in the mid­west. Their lives are in­ter­twined with those stay­ing un­der their roof who in­clude a cou­ple (and their grown-up son who has learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties), a widow with whom Nick is hav­ing an (un­der­stand­able) af­fair and a Bi­ble-seller. Dy­lan’s songs form the sound­track to th­ese lives. And if the songs are not al­ways a per­fect fit nar­ra­tively they are, with­out fail, com­pletely true to the emo­tional pitch of the pro­duc­tion. Just as im­por­tantly they are im­pec­ca­bly sung by the cast who some­times dou­ble as mu­si­cians and who are backed by a beau­ti­ful-sound­ing folk combo of dou­ble bass and gui­tars.

If I have a slight gripe — ac­tu­ally, more of an ob­ser­va­tion — it’s that as con­vinc­ing as the McPher­son’s char­ac­ters are, this great idea never quite sep­a­rates it­self from the ar­ti­fice that is re­quired to make it hap­pen. The ac­tion stops. Peo­ple grab

Shirley Hen­der­son as El­iz­a­beth mics, sing their hearts out and off we go again. But it all works far too well to worry about, and the sto­ries here are gen­uinely mov­ing.

If you’re a Dy­lan fan, this is un­miss­able. If you’re not, this has to be the best chance you’ve ever had to love his mu­sic.


LUCY KIRK­WOOD is the author of some of the most am­bi­tious plays of the past few years. Per­haps the best of th­ese is Chimerica, which thrillingly ex­plored the West’s re­la­tion­ship with China and events lead­ing up to Tien­an­men Square.

This time, she has au­da­ciously com­bined fam­ily drama and high sci­ence. Her hero­ines are sis­ters, sci­ence scep­tic Jenny (Olivia Col­man) and top physi­cist Al­ice (Olivia Wil­liams) who works in Geneva on the Large Hadron Col­lider (LHC), hu­mankind’s at­tempt to un­lock the mys­ter­ies of the uni­verse. The sib­lings rep­re­sent po­lar op­po­site at­ti­tudes to sci­ence, in Jenny’s case with tragic re­sults. Be­liev­ing the mis­in­for­ma­tion sur­round­ing MMR she re­fused her daugh­ter the vac­cine and lives with the con­se­quences.

Col­man is bril­liant as a mother who ex­presses her grief in ex­plo­sions of witty ag­gres­sion. Mean­while the stage is a disc evok­ing the high tech of the LHC and the ac­tion gives way to oc­ca­sional lec­tures on the uni­verse.

The Na­tional’s Ru­fus Nor­ris di­rects with char­ac­ter­is­tic panache, but it’s a lot to fit into a play. And there is a nag­ging doubt as to whether the ar­gu­ments that Al­ice and Jenny have are ac­tu­ally worth hav­ing, let alone drama­tis­ing. In that sense, Col­man’s stun­ning per­for­mance is more than this cen­tral char­ac­ter de­serves.


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