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Live review

Once - A New Musical 

Phoenix Theatre, London

added: 25 Feb 2014 // gig date: 17 Feb 2014
reviewer: Chloe Billington

Once - A New Musical - Phoenix Theatre, London - Printable version
Walking into the ornate Phoenix theatre, you find the stage already transformed into a Dublin pub, the cast improvising around traditional Irish tunes with the passion and delight of a late night lock in. The scene is set for a very unconventional west-end musical.

‘Once’ is a love story unfinished – the pang of melancholy felt when strangers touch each other very deeply, unlock a sense of shared humanity, and then leave. And it’s a show about the way in which we are nurtured and loved by all the people around us; the families of our own making. It goes around and beyond the romantic ideal of star-crossed lovers who live happily forever after. And it’s richer for that.

If you loved the film ‘Once’ you may wonder how such an understated delicate, film could ever be transferred to stage. Director John Tiffany was well aware of the danger of suffocating the original story and the need to find a new theatrical language to tell it. If the eight Tony awards and extended runs are anything to go by, he succeeded.

It has become a bigger story on the stage; bigger jokes, a wider cast of characters and a stronger sense of being held and saved by the community that embraces you. The Czech imigre played by Zrinka Cvitesic is a far more robust, comic lead than the ‘Girl’ in the film, bringing her folky wisdom and Czech courage to foot-stamping life. ‘If you want me’ is perhaps the most stunning vocal performance, with a taut contemporary ensemble dance deepening the sense of shared experience. Brought to life and saved from his self-absorbed misery, ‘Guy’, played sweetly by Declan Bennett will be the next to emigrate –finally setting off on his own journey to New York. A fleeting nod perhaps to many a hopeful hero in the Broadway musical tradition.

Music is at the heart of this story, it’s not just a musical but a story about musicians. The core of the characters are revealed through Glen Hansard’s exquisitely poetic tunes and Marketa Irgolva’s lyrics within a skillfully expanded book by Enda Walsh. It’s ensemble theatre as it’s best – no one leaves the stage and every chorus member has character and their own storyline. The actors are also the musicians: violins, accordion, mandolin, cello, guitar swell in as the songs build and beat a heart-felt rhythm into life.

If you love the original film, Glen Hansard’s music, Irish folk or the West end at its most informal - this is a show to see; simple, well-crafted, and soul enriching.

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4 stars

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