Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and the New Wolsey Ipswich present the UK regional premiere of ‘Once’
Guy is an Irish singer and songwriter who spends his days fixing vacuums in the Dublin shop he runs with his father, and his nights playing his music in local pubs. He is on the verge of giving up music altogether when a Czech immigrant, “Girl,” walks into the bar, hears him play and refuses to let him abandon his guitar. As it turns out, she has a broken vacuum cleaner, Guy repairs it, and she pays him in music on a piano she plays in a record shop. Over the course of a week, Girl convinces Guy to believe in the power of his music and his love for the woman who inspired his songs. They scrape together money to record a demo album with a motley crew of bar friends, and their unexpected friendship and collaboration evolves into a powerful—but very complicated—love story.
When I attended the regional premiere of Once I wasn’t really sure what to expect. The film has been on my list to watch for a long time but is one of those that I never got around to watching. So, apart from the familiar Oscar-winning song ‘Falling Away’ I knew very little about what to expect, which is good because there were no expectations or preconceptions of how it should be done.
The musical opens with a familiar Irish folk sound with people performing during an open mic night in a local bar, which instantly helps to create a jovial mood with the audience. We are introduced to Daniel Healy as ‘Guy’ who is encouraged to perform as it is his first night in the club. Despite his initial reservations, he agrees to perform one of his own original songs called ‘Leave’. As the lights dim and he starts to sing, the sorrow in his voice instantly captivates your attention and you know from here that this show is going to be something special.
It brings together a multifaceted cast who all fall into the category of singers, actors and musicians, whose instruments are integrated seamlessly as part of the performance. Even the manoeuvrability of the cello seems effortless, as it is moved gracefully around the stage. It creates a unique experience with the music on stage which create a concert feel – the energy and the emotions from the cast really connecting with the audience, as the cast seem to lose themselves in the emotion of the moment.
The eclectic cast brings different qualities to the performance, portraying a variety of roles and the ability to interchange between instruments where necessary to facilitate the scene. It is such a smooth transition between scenes and with so much going on it is sometimes easy to overlook the cast who are as they continuing to perform in the background.
Daniel Healy may have played the understudy for ‘Guy’ during the shows West End production, but it is easy to see why he has been given another opportunity to reprise the role as the lead. Delivering a brilliantly emotionally raw and honest performance, you feel as though these songs could have been written from his own experiences.
Emma Lucia is excellent as the straight-talking and always serious ‘Girl’. Delivering a moving performance in which she hides behind a positive and somewhat forceful persona – which acts as a shield to hides her fragile loneliness which she only allows herself to reveal through her music. It is a brilliant vocal performance which creates some of the shows more melancholic moments. This is reflected perfected when she performs ‘The Hill’ alone, with just the piano which really stood out for me. It is one of the many powerful ballads in the show which not only showcase her amazing voice which is hauntingly beautiful to listen to but brilliantly projects the sealed emotions of the character.
The music may be the driving force behind the musical, but there is also plenty of comedy which plays on both the cultural differences and the quirky nature of the characters. Sean Kingsley is, in particular, giving an overzealous performance as the music shop owner, who despite an initially aggressive stance, proves he has a softer side and some eloquent moves on the dance floor.
Once may be remembered for the Oscar-winning song ‘Falling Slowly’, but there are several brilliant songs throughout the show, both upbeat and solemn which are weighed with an emotional attachment – Although the song ‘Abandoned in Bandon’ intentionally has a very different and somewhat interesting feel altogether. The highlight for me was an a capella rendition of the song ‘Gold’. With the cast performing in unison it gradually builds to create an impressive harmony
Once may be in essence a simple love story, but it connects with the audience, thanks to the brutal honesty of the songs and a story which feels grounded in reality. It comes together with emotional performances by the cast which make it difficult not to feel moved; and in contrast to the title, it is something which you will want to see more than once.
Once will be playing at the Queens Theatre in Hornchurch until 20th October.
You can find out more details about the show and purchase tickets on the Queen’s Theatre website.
Theatre review of the Musical 'Once'
A guy, a girl and the song that brought them together.