Book: Enda Walsh
Music and Lyrics: Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová
Director: Peter Rowe
Usually press nights are at the start of a production’s run, but Once at Croydon’s Fairfield Halls has its press night three days before it closes. The team behind this revival wanted to make sure things were as polished as possible before it heads out on tour. The delayed press night turns out to be a smart move as Once is now tour-ready, perhaps even West End-ready.
Starting off as a film written and directed by John Carney, this bittersweet musical has already been a hit in the West End, and its quiet understated approach is a real tonic when compared to the overblown dazzling musicals we usually see there. But all that glitters is not gold. Once may seem slow and lacking in energetic showstoppers, but it shines brighter because of this.
The story is simple; a Czech woman (Girl) hears a man (Guy) busking on the streets of Dublin. He’s a pretty good performer but his heart isn’t in it since he had it broken by his ex-girlfriend, who now lives in New York. Girl persuades him to pursue his music career, encouraging him to think big, of record deals and worldwide tours. Her enthusiasm takes some getting used to, but soon Guy believes in himself too.
But rather than the story, the music is the draw here. As Guy, Daniel Healy is excellent, and with the heart-breaking catch in his voice he sounds a little like Deacon Blue’s Ricky Ross. His voice is well suited to the melancholy songs written by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová who played the leads in the film. The music is wonderful, and the songs are infused with Irish folk and even Czech at times. Emma Lucia is equally as good as Girl, and while her voice may be smoother than Healy’s, they complement each other perfectly, best seen in their performance of the stirring Oscar-winning song Falling Slowly.
All the music is created on stage with the large cast all sporting an instrument or two, and when all the guitars and violins come together the sounds are impressive, and each performer excels here, especially Samuel Martin with his fiddle, Susannah van den Berg with her accordion, and Lloyd Gorman with his drums. But the whole cast is talented, and with some restrained choreography by Francesca Jaynes the set pieces are brilliantly performed, with Gold and When Your Mind’s Made Up being highlights.
When the music is as good as this, the story does struggle at times, especially in the comedy moments which seem laboured and a little awkward in an post #MeToo era. If these scenes could be sorted in some way, this would be a five star production. Everything else about this Once is perfect, and the set – an Irish bar with a few surprises – designed by Libby Watson fits right at home in the Ashcroft Theatre in Fairfield Halls.
Once is definitely worth catching as it now starts its tour across the country. Mature and intimate, Once, unlike its name, is back, and ready to go – again.
Runs until 11 January 2020, and then tours.