028 – Girl from the North Country by Conor McPherson, music and lyrics by Bob Dylan
Conor McPherson’s Girl from the North Country is an extraordinary collaboration between the playwright and musician and song writer Bob Dylan. In fact it was a silent collaboration of sorts, as Dylan granted McPherson carte blanche to create his play around his music without any direction or constraints. The result is a magical work where McPherson’s portrait of families struggling to find hope or security in Depression America is transfigured into an uplifting spiritual experience by the ravishing period arrangements of Dylan’s songs.
The play, directed by McPherson, opened at the Old Vic Theatre in London in 2017 to a rapturous response and reviews, including acclaim such as: “Not very often, a piece of theatre comes along that radiates an ineffable magic.” ; “Beguiling and soulful and quietly, exquisitely, heartbreaking. This is, in short, a very special piece of theatre.”
The Old Vic production was followed by two West End runs and transfers to off-Broadway and Broadway in New York. It garnered many award nominations here and in America, winning several, although I can’t help but think it would have swept the board if it fit more easily into the conventional award categories of play or musical. But as the reviews suggest, it is something very special, which I can personally attest to because I’m happy to confess that Girl from the North Country moved me to tears both times that I saw it.
So this is a very special episode, first because I am privileged to talk with none other than the play’s author Conor McPherson, and secondly because we have also been given kind permission to include several extracts from the original cast recording of the music from the first London production. You can listen to the whole album on Spotify by following this link to the London production.
Note: this episode contains a couple of instances of strong language (among all of its beauty!).
Conor McPherson is from Dublin and began writing plays as a member of the University of Dublin drama society. His early plays include St Nicholas, Shining City, The Seafarer, and The Weir, which opened at the Royal Court before transferring to the West End of London and Broadway, winning the Olivier Award for Best New Play for 1999. It was produced again in the West End in 2013. In 2011 the National Theatre in London premiered his play The Veil, which marked his first foray into period drama and was greeted by critical acclaim. More recently, following Girl from the North Country, Conor’s wonderfully lucid adaptation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya was staged in the West End, and broadcast on BBC in December 2020, and on PBS in America in the Spring of 2021. Conor’s adaptation was the inspiration for our episode on Uncle Vanya, in which we talked with Nick Hern the publisher of his version of the play. Click here to listen to that episode.
Garry Essendine is a star of the London stage with an ego and celebrity lifestyle to match. But as he passes forty his excesses threaten to bring down the entire structure of his professional and personal life. Essendine is the thinly disguised alter-ego of playwright and performer Noel Coward, whose tussle with his own fame is the subject of his classic 3-act, 4-door farce Present Laughter. First performed in 1942 with Coward himself as the lead, the play has since attracted a glittering list of stars who could not resist the flamboyant turn, including most recently Andrew Scott in an Olivier award-winning performance at the Old Vic in 2019. Joining me to reexamine Coward’s ‘light comedy’ in the 21st century is theatrical agent and Coward aficionado, Alan Brodie.
One Podcast Two Plays! Carlo Goldoni’s Commedia dell’Arte classic A Servant to Two Masters and Richard Bean’s hilarious update One Man Two Guvnors. We explore all of the ingredients of the original play in the tradition of Commedia dell’Arte, as well as how Bean translated these so successfully into his smash hit at the National Theatre. Writer and director Justin Greene joins me to sample this multi-course theatrical banquet. (Commedia afficionados will appreciate the gourmet references!).
The dramatic tragedy of a wife who murders her own two sons in a desperate act of grief and revenge remains as disturbing and deeply moving as when it was written nearly 2,500 years ago. Medea by Euripides is timeless not only because of our fascination with Medea’s horrific crime, but for the poetry of its language, and its unflinching portrayal of a woman all but powerless in a patriarchal world. The play was recently revived at the National Theatre with a stunning performance by Helen McCrory in the title role, which is now available to view on the National Theatre at Home. I’m joined by renowned classical scholar Edith Hall to explore our enduring fascination with Medea.
Before the theatres went dark this month I was lucky enough to see Caryl Churchill’s A Number at the Bridge, and spend more than seven hours in thrall to Robert Lepage’s Seven Streams of the River Ota at the National. Plus, some thoughts on what we miss when there is no theatre.
Another great mix of shows this month, from Tom Stoppard’s new play, to Ibsen, Beckett and newer plays in smaller London venues.
The January roundup included both classic plays, such as The Duchess of Malfi, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, as well as recent musicals Dear Evan Hansen and Girl from the North Country …