Girl from the North Country@The Lowry, Salford Quays

Girl from the North Country (Picture: Johan Persson)
Girl from the North Country (Picture: Johan Persson)

IT may be billed as the Bob Dylan musical but this wonderful, moving, thought-provoking and evocative production is about as far from a jukebox musical as you can get.

This is a musical for people who say they don't like musicals; it's a Bob Dylan musical for people who say they don't like Bob Dylan. It's simply a magical piece of theatre.

Writer Conor McPherson has somehow taken 20 Bob Dylan songs - he was basically told to 'help himself' to his Bobness's back catalogue - and seemlessly fitted them into a storyline that will stay with you for a very long time.

Set in a boarding house in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1934 - Duluth is the birthplace of the aforementioned Bob Dylan - Girl From the North Country is the story of the ramshackle collection of residents who call this run down establishment home.

The Wall Street Crash, the raging Dustbowl in the Mid West; rising political tensions are all a background to this collection of lost souls, people who have lost their place in the world for various reasons.

It's reminiscent of the work of Damon Runyan or Eugene O'Neill. Every character has a story; many have secrets and all have been let down by life.

Conor McPherson on bringing Bob Dylan to the stage

Sounds depressing? Not a bit of it. There is genuine pathos, some real sadness but it is interspersed with some moments of shining beauty, more often than not provided by the songs and the breathtaking arrangements thereof.

Boy can this cast sing. There isn't a weakness anywhere. From soulful revival meeting to heart-rending torch songs, Bob Dylan's songs provide the glue which holds the whole thing together.

Even for a Dylan aficionado, some of the songs chosen will be pretty obscure, but that's part of the show's appeal. Like A Rolling Stone, Hurricane and Slow Train all feature but all are almost unrecognisable from the originals.

The production also highlights what a poet and genuine storyteller Bob Dylan is. Not once do you feel as though a song or even a single lyric has been shoehorned in to fit. The whole thing is just so organic.

Nick Laine runs the boarding house with his wife Elizabeth. He's hopeless with money and surrounded by debt. She's emotionally disturbed, part child and part savant - a tremendous performance from Frances McNamee.

Their fractured relationship is at the centre of the story as numerous other characters are introduced. Each one of them is so well rounded, so human.

The production looks fantastic. You watch almost through the half light, often there is barely enough light to make things out but that's so appropriate for the twilight existence of the characters.

And the on-stage band - The Howlin' Winds - are simply magnificent. They are worth the price of a ticket in their own right.

It's hard to single out any one performance as honestly they are all outstanding. On opening night there were four enforced cast changes but you couldn't tell.

Girl From the North Country has been a hit in the West End and on Broadway. It may have taken several years to hit the road but my words it's worth the wait.

It runs until Saturday. Details from