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.
Conor recommended The Wexford Trilogy by Billy Roche.
The Footnotes to our episode on Girl from the North Country include brief thoughts on Elizabeth’s ability to see and say the truth, as well as more on the echoes of Chekhov in Conor’s play.
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Published 4th December
Lynn Nottage’s play Clyde’s is set in a truck-stop diner on the outskirts of Reading, Pennsylvania. This is no ordinary diner though, because the short-order cooks that make the sandwiches that the diner is famous for are all ex-cons. But the eponymous proprietor, Clyde, has not offered these characters a second chance out of the softness of her heart.
Lynn Nottage has won the Pulitzer Prize for drama twice, and as we record this episode the European preview of Clyde’s is on stage at the Donmar Warehouse in London. I am delighted to be joined by the show’s director Lynette Linton, who also directed Nottage’s last play Sweat at the same theatre in 2018.
The poet Percy Shelley called King Lear “the most perfect specimen of the dramatic art existing in the world”. It is a prodigious play in every sense. There are ten major roles, it has multiple significant plot lines, an elemental stormy setting, intense domestic conflict, and acts of war and violence which roll on with a propulsive tragic energy and conjure a challenging philosophical vision.
As we record this episode a new production directed by and starring Sir Kenneth Branagh arrives in London’s West End.
I am very pleased to be joined in this episode by Paul Prescott, who is an academic, writer and theatre practitioner specialising in Shakespearean drama.
Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge tells the tragic story of Eddie Carbone, a longshoreman who works on the docks under Brooklyn Bridge. Eddie lives with his wife Beatrice and 17-year old niece, Catherine, whom they have cared for since she was a child. But Catherine is no longer a child, and her natural desire to pursue her own life will tragically rupture the lives of this family and the close-knit immigrant community of Red Hook.
As we record this episode a new production of A View from the Bridge is touring the UK, and I’m delighted to talk with its director, Holly Race Roughan, about this powerful play.