From the streets of Dublin to a stage in London designed to resemble a dimly-lit Dublin pub, Once has been transformed from film to stage all the while maintaining its simple beauty – because, it is the music, not the setting that makes this musical such a wonderful experience.
The characters are simply known as Guy and Girl. Guy divides his time between busking on the streets of Dublin and fixing broken hoovers. Girl, a wonderful piano player, is separated from her husband and providing for their young daughter. Girl’s hoover is broken, Girl enjoys Guy’s music, she offers to repay him in music if he can fix her hoover… and a complicated friendship ensues. Girl decides to encourage Guy with his music and dedicates time to helping him pursue his dreams (as well as the chances of reconciliation with this ex-girlfriend), but soon, the music created for the ex-girlfriend becomes a narrative of their developing love story.
Zrinka Cvitešić and Declan Bennett are fantastic as the leads of the show, but it is the combination of the cast as a collective, and their ability to play a variety of instruments (literally everything from drums, accordion, guitar, piano, fiddle – you name it) that makes for a series of raw and tender moments between an Irishman and a Czech girl who is always serious.
The action onstage never once detracts from the music – and this is clearly all about the music – the folksy, acoustic songs with lyrics that speak of heartbreak and hope simultaneously. ‘Falling Slowly’ is the stand-out song which also happens to have won the Oscar for ‘Best Original Song’ in 2008. The first time it’s sang it is wonderful, but by the time it reaches its reprise the meaning has changed and it becomes far more powerful and moving. Scenes and spaces change on stage with the flick of the lights, as do the emotions of the characters and the audiences’ reaction to the sequence of events unfolding before them. There may be no jazz hands here but there are certainly lots of laughs, lots of musical talent, and a few times when you may just find yourself searching for a tissue… or two.