Touring – reviewed at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon
Embarking on a UK tour, Once tells the story of Girl meeting Guy. He, is a Dublin busker on the brink of walking away from music after having his heart broken and feeling unheard in a bustling world; whilst, she is a force for change who exudes positivity from the moment their worlds collide. In the space of a few days, their lives become beautifully connected and changed forever. The musical is an evocative piece, which slowly creeps up on you to warm, break and soothe your heart in equal measures. It’s a love letter to music and identity that deserves to be seen and heard.
Emma Lucia is a certified star as Girl, as she gives an assured performance, filled with warmth, vulnerability, encouragement and love. Girl is married to an unseen man who walked out on her, and has a daughter who has her heart. Lucia’s incredibly truthful performance is outstanding from start to finish, as are her vocals which ring out with a clarity and strength that utterly absorbs the audience. Alongside her, Daniel Healy is perfect as Guy. His angst fuelled performance of Leave opens the show with the grit, intensity and honesty which courses through it until the end. Healy’s musical performances are highly impressive as he shows exceptional vocal control.
The music is just beautiful, with so many breathtaking moments. Much of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová’s music does not in fact move the plot along, but each piece perfectly evokes the feelings and emotions of the Dublin setting and the characters living there. The musical synchronicity between the entire cast is second to none, with every member completely connecting to one another as they tell a story about music and humanity. The exceptional ensemble work is showcased throughout, but is especially striking during the reprisal of Gold, where every breath, pause and inflection feels as though they’re coming from a single body as opposed to a group of individuals. This is just one of many magical moments which make this musical so special and affecting.
Libby Watson’s set almost looks like a painting when we first see it. Staying as a pub throughout, small items are brought on to signal when the action changes location. A tool desk for the hoover shop, a microphone for the recording studio and a bed for the bedroom are just some of these details. The whole thing feels cosy, like a tale that’s been handed down through generations is being told over a drink- a real hug of a show. It’s really incredible how Peter Rowe has directed a production that feels so intimate despite the size of the theatre it’s housed in.
Amongst the vast deep moments of the plot, there are also some extremely humorous aspects which evoke the highs and lows of everyday life excellently. Girl and Guy’s friends scatter the story with moments of reality. There’s Reza, confidently played by Ellen Chivers: trouser ripping Svec (Lloyd Gorman) who is hilarious; Andrej who is the embodiment of optimism accompanied by the divine voice of James William-Pattison; and Dan Bottomley as the music shop owner who longs to feel needed. The supporting characters bring some of the most profound moments through their reactions to Guy and Girl’s music.
Both the bank manager (Samuel Martin) and recording engineer Eamon (Matthew Burns) start out nonchalant but are so transformed by what they hear that they completely change their views and become wholly invested. The power of music is obviously evident in every fibre of Once and it’s joyous to see.
The audience can’t hep but be attentive throughout as Once has the magical ability to completely wrap them up and take them on a journey that is pure and delicate. Of course this a show about music, but what’s even more magical is how spectacularly the entire team make the most out of silence. Each pause feels completely natural but intentional at once as an atmosphere like no other is formed. This is a complete delight of a musical that must be experienced. It’s not jazz hands and drama, but instead, is melancholic, unashamedly romantic and wholeheartedly wonderful.
Details about the Once Tour can be found here
photo credit: Mark Senior