Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch – until 20 October 2018
I’d forgotten just how much I like Once. I saw it a couple of times in its 2013-15 West End incarnation and its atypical subtlety was a big hit for me, particularly in the gentle mood cultivated by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová’s music and lyrics. The fact that it isn’t a brassy balls-out West End musical might explain why it has taken a little time for its regional premiere to emerge but mercifully, that time has now come.
For that, we have co-producers Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich to thank. And director Peter Rowe’s actor-musician production slips into the groove perfectly, as warm and comforting as a pint of Guinness or three in your favourite old man’s pub – and occasionally just as rowdy as well. With Enda Walsh’s book taken from John Carney’s original film, its bittersweetly romantic tone feels perfect as autumn descends.
Daniel Healy (who understudied the main role in the West End) plays the Irish busker whose broken-hearted songs capture the attention of a Czech single mother – an emotive Emma Lucia – and what follows is a story of slow-burning attraction, missed chances and vacuum cleaners, tender enough to move even the stubbornest of souls. Yes, it is rom-com territory but there’s something more here too, I’m sure of it, and not just the beauty of ‘Falling Slowly’.
A powerfully charismatic company play up much of the humour in the world around Guy and Girl, Sean Kingsley standing out and Susannah van den Berg’s Barushka too. But the quality of the playing by all (led by MD Ben Goddard) is second-to-none and truly engenders that spirit of community, of coming together to be kind, that underlies the story here. If I could fit in another trip before this closes, I would: Once is never enough…