Conor McPherson’s musical, based around the songs of Bob Dylan and set in the musician’s birthplace of Duluth, Minnesota, is not a perfect show. The narrative is patchy, the script has a tendency to run to cliché, and the relationship between the selected songs and the storyline is somewhat tenuous. But, like Dylan’s own artistic output, it transcends. It succeeds in being emotionally true and compelling.
Returning to the West End for a second time following its original transfer from London’s Old Vic at the end of 2017, McPherson’s story follows the fortunes of a Depression Era family that owns a boarding house. Marianne (Gloria Obianyo), a young black woman adopted by the house’s white owners when she was abandoned as a baby, is pregnant and, in absence of the father, is being pressured to marry a much older, local man for money.
The set-up holds a resemblance to the claustrophobic world contained in McPherson’s earlier play, The Weir, and there are strong echoes of Tennessee Williams’ fraught family dramas. Rae Smith’s cavernous, softly illuminated set design lends the impoverished locale an atmospheric, velvety quality.
It’s the performances that make it though. The new cast members do amazing work. There are several exceptional performances. Shaq Taylor is enigmatic and enviably naturalistic as boxer Joe Scott, but it’s Obianyo’s purely and distinctly beautiful performance of Tight Connection to My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love) that steals the show. She’s clearly a star in the making.