Exquisite soundtrack is unmissable for Bob Dylan fans
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.