Book: Enda Walsh
Music & Lyrics: Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová
Director: Peter Rowe
Any production that opens with the raucous Sick Bed of Cuchulainn by The Pogues is begging you to sit up and take notice. This coupled with a pub setting and the arrival of a musical troop, complete with guitars, banjos, fiddles, and accordions, it would be fair to assume that this is going to be a rowdy night of traditional Irish folk music. This, however, could not be further from the truth, as Once is a bittersweet love story, packed with humour, tenderness and some beautiful songs.
Based on John Carney’s 2007 super low budget indie hit, this Tony Award-winning musical focuses on the timeless, simple story of Guy meets a Girl (literally in this case as the two remain nameless throughout) and the pair fall in love. The Guy (Daniel Healy) in question is Dublin busker who lives with his recently widowed father, whilst the Girl (Emma Lucia) is a young Czech woman, who happens to hear his final performance. Despite a few language and cultural differences, they bond over a love of music, and a realisation that they a great deal in common with one another and thus begins a five-day journey that will change both of their lives forever.
Once is a modern-day fairy tale that has done more than kissed the Blarney stone. This is a celebration of the city of Dublin, its diversity, its musical heritage and the wonderful characters that inhabit it. The production has two great strengths: the first being the joyous music throughout, performed by a super-talented group of actors and musicians. The ensemble cast are ever-present throughout, playing a rich blend of roots and traditional folk music. Not only do they breathe life into their characters but the instruments too. The second comes in the form of the unquestionable chemistry between Healey and Lucia. Both bring warmth, vulnerability, humour and most important of a likeability factor, that engages you right from their first encounter. It also helps that both have tremendous singing voices as demonstrated on the gorgeous duet “Falling Slowly”.
The production has several musical highlights with pick being the two very different versions the song “Gold”, one is tub-thumping, rousing song completed by Healy and ensemble complete with full musical arrangement, with the second being a full ensemble A cappella incarnation, stripped back but no less impressive and the perfect example of why this production is special.
There are a few issues. The slow low pace of the narrative at times seem laboured, which does frustrate. In addition, some of the supporting characters seem two dimensional, from the man-eating best friend, Reza (Ellen Chivers) to the rather eccentric musical instrument store owner, Billy, (Dan Bottomley). Outside of the leads these are the second most prominent characters with both being there just to provide light relief, both Bottomley and Chivers make the most of their under-written roles.
Overall this an enjoyable, tale which like the music featured, is full of heart and soul. The narrative like the opening number will wrong-foot you throughout, not taking you to where you expect it to. Once will make you laugh, it may even make you cry, and it will most certainly entertain!
Runs until 25 January 2020 and continues on Tour