The musical based on the music of Bob Dylan is back in the West End following sell out successes at The Old Vic and The Noel Coward theatre last year. Set in a run-down guesthouse in the midst of the Great Depression, the play centres on Nick Laine, proprietor, struggling to keep his business afloat whilst looking after his wife who has dementia and his myriad of guests. Their son Gene is a struggling unemployed writer who drinks and adopted, black daughter Marianne is 4 months pregnant without a partner. Nick’s constant battle with family values and his affair with guesthouse resident Mrs Neilson are threaded throughout the play impacted by the sudden arrival of two unexpected guests in the middle of the night.
The cast is mostly changed from the original performance which brings with it a fresh interpretation of the work. Katie Brayben as the dementia suffering Elizabeth Laine brought a level of emotion to the performance that was unexpected, driving forward the plot and allowing the audience to explore the complex levels of each character through her eyes. Stand out performance from Gloria Obianyo whose sultry voice draws in the audience and intensifies the plight of Marianne.
The story sweeps you along and the music feels natural and conversational; the songs fit into the emotional narrative rather than feeling forced. This is not your typical ‘juke box’ musical. The cast are all powerful in their own right with a strong ensemble but the number of prominent characters makes it difficult to focus in on one storyline. Without spoiling anything, a death occurs in the second act which is unexpected to the point of being unnecessary; it’s left unexplained which may be intentional but as an audience member, I found myself wanting more.
Guest Reviewer: Hannah Davies