Margo Lion, Broadway producer of “Hairspray”, once said “Traditionally, the great musicals were based on plays, but the thing is we ran out of plays and we had to find something else to base them on”. Whilst I wouldn’t totally agree with her, there’s no doubt there’s a recent trend where films such as “Billy Eliot”, “Kinky Boots”, “Little Shop Of Horrors” etc. have been turned into highly successful musicals as has Once which after award winning runs on Broadway and in the West End, is now going on a UK tour starting in Croydon and visiting over twenty towns and cities between now and July.
Once is based on John Carney’s film of the same name and has a book by Enda Walsh and music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. It tells the story of a guy (called Guy) and a girl (called Girl) who meet in a Dublin street where he’s busking, and she gets him to repair her broken Hoover (that’s his day job!) and a gentle love story develops over the next few days. There’s not much of a plot but there’s a lot of superb music and dialogue to make up for it.
Once has already started as the audience enters the auditorium with most of the large cast already on stage playing various instruments and singing and dancing to Irish traditional folk music. The set is that of a welcoming, comfy Irish pub and when the location moves to other spaces – a bedroom, a music shop, a recording studio – only small pieces of furniture are wheeled on. It’s as if the story is being told over a pint at the bar and it helps draw the audience in. Then when a complete change of scene is needed, the pub’s ceiling rises, and we see the moon and the stars, and the lights of Dublin in the distance, are represented by a carpet of tiny bulbs.
Whilst the songs are excellent – there’s not many musicals that have an Oscar winning song (“Falling Slowly”) in their midst – it’s Walsh’s book that makes the show work on another level. He brings a distinctive Irish wit and charm to the dialogue and the characters come to life. He highlights the differences and the similarities between Guy and his Dublin friends and Girl with her extended Czech family and there’s a superb running gag about the honesty of the Czechs which contrasts with the sometimes bending of the truth from the Irish!
Peter Rowe directs the large cast with a sure hand and the overall production is a joy. Apart from the excellent set, there’s the use of Czech surtitles which don’t have a lot of purpose (unless of course, you speak the language) but are great fun. As for the cast, everyone is superb, and it has a real ensemble feel to it. Daniel Healy brings a lot of charm to the part of Guy and Emma Lucia is delightful as Girl. Two standout performers are Ellen Chivers (Reza) who plays violin and sings like an angel and Rosalind Ford (Ex-Girlfriend) who whilst singing, manipulates her cello around the stage as if it were made of balsawood – remarkable. All the others play at least one instrument, sing, dance and act superbly – theatrical quadruple threats are definitely the new triple threats! It’s a pleasure to hear another musical that uses just acoustic instruments and aren’t over-amplified (a particular bugbear for this reviewer). There are others around at the moment such as Girl From The North Country and Come From Away both of which feature wonderful, on-stage musicians caressing their instruments rather than thrashing the life out of them!
Once is an uplifting and life affirming story of love, sacrifice, being true to your values, friendship and a broken Hoover. It should be coming to a theatre near you soon so go and see Once – maybe even twice.
Review by Alan Fitter
Based on the critically acclaimed and much-loved film, Once tells the uplifting yet yearning story of two lost souls – a Dublin street busker and a Czech musician – who unexpectedly fall in love. Following their relationship across five short days, big changes happen to both of them in little ways. Celebrated for its original score including the Academy Award-winning song Falling Slowly, Once is a spell-binding and uplifting story of hopes and dreams.
Once embarks on its first major UK tour after acclaimed runs on Broadway and in the West End, and having won awards across the world including the Academy Award for Best Original Song, a Grammy for Best Musical Theatre Album, eight Tony Awards and an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music.
The cast is led by Daniel Healy as Guy and Emma Lucia as Girl, who return to the roles after receiving critical and audience acclaim in the production’s 2018 premiere at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich and Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch.
The cast also features Dan Bottomley as Billy, Matthew Burns as Eamon, Ellen Chivers as Reza, Rosalind Ford as Ex-Girlfriend, Lloyd Gorman as Svejc, David Heywood as Emcee, Samuel Martin as Bank Manager, Peter Peverley as Da, Susannah Van Den Berg as Baruska and James William-Pattison as Andrej. The cast also includes Emma Fraser, Seán Keany, Hanna Khogali and Conor McFarlane.
Once is directed by Peter Rowe with set and costume design by Libby Watson, musical supervision by Ben Goddard, choreography by Francesca Jaynes, lighting design by Mark Dymock, sound design by James Cook, projection design by Peter Hazelwood and orchestrations by Martin Lowe. Casting is by Debbie O’Brien.
SELECTED TOUR DATES
Thursday 19 December – Saturday 11 January 2020
ASHCROFT THEATRE at FAIRFIELD HALLS, CROYDON
Box Office: www.fairfield.co.uk / 020 3292 0002
Monday 20 – Saturday 25 January 2020
LIVERPOOL EMPIRE THEATRE
Monday 3 – Saturday 8 February 2020
YORK GRAND OPERA HOUSE
Monday 10 – Saturday 15 February 2020
WOKING NEW VICTORIA THEATRE
Monday 17 – Saturday 22 February 2020
MILTON KEYNES THEATRE
Tuesday 17 – Saturday 21 March 2020
STOKE REGENT THEATRE
Tuesday 14 – Saturday 18 April 2020
OXFORD NEW THEATRE
Monday 20 – Saturday 25 April 2020
BRIGHTON THEATRE ROYAL
Tuesday 26 – Saturday 30 May 2020
Monday 1 – Saturday 6 June 2020
BIRMINGHAM ALEXANDRA THEATRE
Monday 13 – Saturday 18 July 2020
GLASGOW KING’S THEATRE