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5 star review of Once London December 2014

Jill Winternitz as Girl and Ronan Keating as Guy in Once
Jill Winternitz as Girl and Ronan Keating as Guy in Once at the Phoenix Theatre
Photo credit Brinkhoff Moegenburg

Once – the award winning musical based on the film that was written and directed by John Carney.

With the news of its closure on 21st March 2015, prior to embarking on a European tour, the production team made the decision to bring in a big name for the final few months at the Phoenix Theatre in London’s West End.

I have previously seen Once and enjoyed it immensely: the story about an unknown unassuming heartbroken busker who meets a young Czech girl on the streets of Dublin – a layered love story with traditional Irish folk toe-tapping music. So the question I asked myself was – can a worldwide star carry off the role of an unknown?

I took to my seat and looked at the large number of people at the stage bar and thought to myself – most of the audience must be on that stage. Where else in the West End would you get the opportunity to stand on the stage and have a drink at its onstage bar as part of the ticket price? The atmosphere is being created by the instrument playing cast on stage. The audience take to their seats and whilst sparse are so ready to be entertained.

From the moment Ronan Keating (Guy) comes on the stage he displays a charismatic air. He brings a different angle to the part than I’ve seen before which is testament to his acting ability. He plays it with a certain amount of anger and you can really feel his despair and angst.  Jill Winternitz (Girl) who I’ve seen in the role prior to tonight, never ceases to impress me. Her singing is effortless and her acting is both feisty and strong. She takes control of Guy and reshapes his outlook on life within five days.

The chemistry between these two characters is palpable and believable. Ronan Keating’s voice is as expected strong, but also right for this part and after a few minutes you are so caught up in the show you actually forget (for the right reasons) who he is.

Tim Prottey-Jones as Billy the shop owner was both funny and endearing – after all he too wanted to win the heart of Girl and really like us all, ultimately just wanted to be loved. Helena Gullan played Reza well and showed the fiery side to her character. Jamie Cameron as the Bank Manager was convincing as a budding artiste who craved an escape from his boring reality.

Allison Harding (Baruska) and Mark Carlisle (Da) were well cast and the hint at the end that there may be a budding romance for the recently widowed Da and Mother of Girl gave hope.

Miria Parvin as the Ex-Girlfriend and ensemble was effervescent right from the opening number and lights up the stage with her enthusiasm and smile.

This is not your average musical and there is no dancing as such. However I did want to mention the movement by Movement Director Steven Hoggett, which is mesmerising in its simplicity, very precise and rhythmic on beat movement which whilst minimal was absolutely perfect for this show.

A story of Guy and Girl who have both loved and lost. As the show unfolds, we witness their five day journey together creating a CD full of love songs written by Guy about his Ex-Girlfriend. An experience which actually changes each other’s lives forever and gives a hint of what life could hold for them if they were to be in the right relationship.

The music, originally written for the film by Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova is fabulous.  A highlight for me in this award-winning production is the Oscar® winning song “Falling Slowly” which is stunning in its recreation by the talented cast.

So returning to my original question – can a worldwide star carry off the role of an unknown?  – I personally say a resounding YES!

This show should be seen at least once and my only criticism of the whole evening was there should’ve been more of us in the audience to appreciate this truly outstanding cast!

Do not miss out! Please go and see it before it closes and you will share my view. Ronan Keating has found a new career path – he was born to be on that West End stage!

5 Star Rating
Review by Caroline Hanks-Farmer

Phoenix Theatre London
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes
Age Restrictions: Children under the age of 4 are not permitted in the theatre.
Show Opened: 16th March 2013
Booking Until: 21st March 2015
Evenings: Monday to Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees: Thursday and Saturday 2.30pm


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