At The Grand Opera House

Girl From North Country contextualises the work of one of the greatest songwriters of all time with a powerfully subdued display of Dust Bowl drama.

Written and directed by Conor McPherson with music and lyrics by Bob Dylan, the show takes place in the heart of the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. Backdropped by a last-chance saloon in the shape of a rural guest house in Minnesota, the societal downtrodden mix with falsely accused escaped convicts, non-practising preachers and desperate dreamers.

Showing in the Grand Opera House, costume and set designer Rae Smith builds a world in a palette of hopelessness, while letting light make up for the muted colours. Some scenes glow like Renaissance paintings with crowds pulsing with life and vibrancy, while others strike solitary light onto scenes of poignant loneliness.

The sizable ensemble allowed for a dynamic demonstration of hardships. Lost souls trade guidance and grievances about heartbreak and happiness that feels both poetic and incredibly relevant. Financial struggles, unplanned pregnancies and prejudices tied together with romantic misalignments and ideas of greener grass. It’s an amalgamation of stories that come together in what feels like a natural extension of Dylan’s lyrics, while still allowing for authentic characters and moments of levity.

The songs from Dylan’s catalogue range from ubiquitous classics to obscurities. Subsiding expectations, ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ comes at the end of the first half, following an intimate scene and giving the classic track a chance to grow in a different direction from what we’re used to. The music illuminates characters' emotions rather than pushing the storyline, such as Todd Almond’s character (a drunken man-child battling with pride and love), performing a truly heartwrenching solo ballad of ‘I Want You’.

Accompanied by a dynamic onstage band that feels true to the time, characters take up instruments seamlessly (Rebecca Thornhill’s Mrs Burke on drums) and without the songwriter's voice present, the experience of hearing technically gifted singers taking on the arrangements gave the source material a refreshing flavour.

Safe to say, if you’re a fan of Bob Dylan to any degree, this is a genuine must-watch.