Once a low-budget Irish film with an Oscar-winning song and then a Tony and Olivier Award-winning musical, Once, with a book by Enda Walsh and music/lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, is now embarking on an extensive tour of the United Kingdom. The Reviews Hub’s Stephen Bates, who admits to having seen Once twice in London’s West End, dropped in on rehearsals in a studio on the fringes of the City of London business district.
Starting at Fairfield Halls, Croydon on 19 December 2019 and ending at New Theatre, Hull on 25 July 2020, the tour will take in 26 venues in England, Scotland and Wales. Daniel Healy, who has played roles in the show previously, will be Guy, the central character, a Dublin busker who is down on his luck and about to give up. Emma Lucia will be the Czech girl who gets him back on his feet. It is an uplifting story of redemption through love, music and love of music.
Emerging from a large group of actor/musicians, Healy stepped forward to put heart and souls into the song Leave, accompanying himself on guitar. Lucia then appeared, tinkling an upright piano, as the pair drifted into the haunting Oscar-winning duet, Falling Slowly. They were mesmerising. The style of the music, a fusion of soft rock and traditional Irish folk, made the show unique when it first appeared, but Musical Supervisor Ben Goddard commented on similarities with the current hit Come From Away, which, ironically, is playing at London’s Phoenix Theatre, home to Once for over two years.
Director Peter Rowe is Artistic Director of the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich, where he has worked on a production of this musical previously. The main setting for the show is a Dublin bar and, in the West End production, the audience are allowed to go on stage to buy drinks during the interval. Sadly, Rowe confirmed that this will not be possible on tour, but, judging from the exuberance of the company in this rehearsal, spirits will be lifted high enough anyway.
Often, when we see actors appearing to play musical instruments on stage, we question whether or not it is for real, but, in the rehearsal room, there is no hiding place. All members of the company here really do play guitars, violins, cellos, accordions, etc as they move around in character to Francesca Jaynes’ choreography. Asked whether it is more important to cast actors who can pass as musicians or musicians who can pass as actors, Rowe gave the diplomatic answer, claiming that everyone here is equally good as both. There was nothing seen or heard at this rehearsal to justify disputing his claim.
Tours from 19 December 2019 to 25 July 2020 | Image: Contributed