Arriving from America with eight Tony Awards to boast about, the new musical, Once, which opened this week at the Phoenix Theatre, is a fantastic show, impressive in its simplicity. This love story is a world away from the brummagem you often see in the West End. This is genuine, heartfelt stuff – and refreshing for being so.
The guy and girl are a Dublin busker and a Czech immigrant, played by talented duo Declan Bennett and Zrinka Cvitešić. They fall in love because of a shared passion for music. This is a modern affair with complications that make them chaste; their brief encounter is more about creativity than carnality, as she inspires him with the confidence to pursue his musical career.
Based on the 2006 film of the same name, spruced up with poetic moments from writer Enda Walsh, Once started out at the New York Theatre Workshop before its transfer to Broadway. It’s easy to fantasise how wonderful it would be in a small venue. But the atmospheric design by Bob Crowley, recreating an Irish pub where all the action takes place, is wonderfully intimate. The bar can be visited by the audience, and the actor-musicians, who perform marvellously, never leave the set.
Most of the songs, including the Oscar-winning ‘Falling Slowly’, are marvelled at as they are performed: by the girl when she first hears them, a sympathetic bank manager approached for a loan (Jez Unwin providing some much needed comic relief) and the studio manager as the band make their demo tape. It’s key to the piece’s charm – the invitation to revel in creativity. Behind this is the beautiful score written by Glen Hansard and Markèta Irglovà. A mix of folk-inspired tunes, performed with a raw energy that is infectious. Instantly appealing, and with the potential to grow on you – these are songs you will want to hear more than once.
Until 4 July 2014
Photo by Manuel Harlan
Written 12 April 2013 for The London Magazine