Review: Once, Phoenix, ✭✭✭✭

Venerated theatre royalty and champagne-soaked ‘celebs’ descended upon the Phoenix theatre to welcome the eight tony-award winning, Once to the glittering West End. What waits beyond the red-carpet however is at odds with the dazzle and pop of press night – a show that requires no such garb. The delicate, heart-felt Once serves to dress-down its esteemed audience from the off, with a fun, folksy pre-show that strums you directly into the heart of Dublin.

Once feels like a fairy-tale.

Once upon a time, there was an Irish ‘heart-broken, hoover-fixer, sucker Guy’ who fortuitously attracted the interest of a beautiful, Czech ‘Girl.’ Girl takes great interest in his music and is herself, pretty hot on the piano. Within five days, with a little help from her (coincidentally) talented friends, Guy’s life is radicalised and his faith restored in music.

What began life as an indie, low budget film has been romanticised in adaptation for the stage. By stripping the plot bare of poverty or struggle (in the film, Girl sells the Big Issue) the characters appear to have it a bit too easy and the focus falls instead upon love. And yet, Once does not satisfy its teary-eyed audience with a Disney-esque conclusion; reason and responsibility ultimately conquer over romance.

Once is a rare, undefinable piece that hovers precariously between a rom-com, a Mumford and Sons concert and a (censored) play by Martin McDonough

Glen Hansard’s folk-rock music employs a stirring combination of piano and strings. With this, Steven Hoggett’s movement and the inclusion of a very cute, small child, you can’t fail to be moved. However, if you’re expecting a musical in the conventional sense of the word, you’ll be waiting a while. Once is a rare, undefinable piece that hovers precariously between a rom-com, a Mumford and Sons concert and a (censored) play by Martin McDonough. The songs appropriately trace the curve of the narrative, acutely depicting the contrasting cultures here united, but the lyrics do not directly relate to the story or its characters. Enda Walsh’s charming book appropriately serves the ditty with comical quips, meaty silences and a heavy dose of subtext, but feelings are always kept at arm’s length (or teasingly concealed in translation.) Girl fancies Guy, Guy fancies Girl and neither does anything about it; It’s frustrating, but it is also abnormally powerful, utterly disarming and truly unique.

The cast and creatives merit generous praise (and standing ovations such as they received on Tuesday); the talent on display is frankly humbling. The sound is notably good, the design beautifully simplistic and the company of exceptionally talented actor-musicians (in the capable hands of Musical Supervisor, Jim Henson) play, move and sing as one, creating a hypnotic net in which to trap the audience.

So, “ZlomVaz!” (Break a leg!)

Once, whatever it might be, is a treasure and it deserves to be received as such.

**** (4 stars)
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