GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY: INTERVIEW WITH CONOR MCPHERSON
The award-winning smash-hit production of Girl From The North Country, written and directed by celebrated playwright Conor McPherson (The Weir, The Seafarer) with music and lyrics by Bob Dylan, is coming to Newcastle Theatre Royal Mon 26 Sep – Sat 1 Oct 2022.
It’s 1934 in the heartland of America and we meet a group of wayward souls who cross paths in a time-weathered guesthouse. Standing at a turning point in their lives, they realize nothing is what it seems. But as they search for a future, and hide from the past, they find themselves facing unspoken truths about the present.
Writer and Director Conor McPherson said “Collaborating with Bob Dylan has been a unique privilege for me. We have had an amazing journey opening on Broadway and in the West End but I feel particularly excited and moved to finally bring this work to my home town of Dublin and on tour around the UK.”
On a shelf in Conor McPherson’s agreeably cluttered Dublin office stands a row of more than 60 CDs. It was these that Dylan’s management company sent McPherson when the multi award-winning writer/director came on board for the project that would become Girl From The North Country.
In the summer of 2017, this gentle masterpiece, an elegiac and powerful study of family and poverty, love and loss, opened at London’s Old Vic Theatre. The acclaim was instantaneous.
It is set in a down-on-its-luck boarding-house in Dylan’s home-town of Duluth, Minnesota in 1934, when the Great Depression is biting hard. The stories of the drifters and dreamers are elegantly intertwined with more than 20 of Dylan’s songs. It makes for a potent cocktail that has wowed audiences nationally and internationally.
In McPherson’s opinion, the show’s appeal is simple. It is the “universality of Dylan’s music, which is loved the world over. He manages to distil his subjective experience into something people relate to.”
McPherson, known for haunting dramas such as The Weir and Port Authority, had never previously directed a musical and found himself revelling in the novel experience.
His vision came to him whilst walking beside the sea where he lives; it was a concept with which Bob Dylan was instantly enamoured. The Depression era is a time that continues to resonate with us, McPherson says. “We all wonder how we would cope when the chips are down. When all the distractions of modern life are stripped away, people think, ‘How strong am I?’ The truth is that humans are very resilient and we don’t need a lot of what we think we need.”
McPherson has nothing but praise for the creative free rein that Dylan has afforded him, leaving the writer to select the songs he wanted to include in the show. “I listened to everything and thought I’d see what spoke to me. It had to be that kind of instinctive, personal feeling.”
How many times has Bob Dylan seen it? McPherson smiles. “I know that he saw it in New York and spoke to our cast afterwards. That first time he sat up the back with a hoodie on; he nips in and out and doesn’t make too much of a fuss.”
McPherson’s aim has been to pack the cast with performers who “move the air when they come on” and wants the audience to take away with them “an emotional catharsis, a feeling of the mystery of life as they understand it.”
Girl From The North Country plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal from Mon 26 Sep – Sat 1 Oct 2022. Tickets priced from £15.00 can be purchased at www.theatreroyal.co.uk or from the Box Office on 0191 232 7010.
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