Once [Review]


London musical theatre is going great guns, and in terms of new shows, it's the Book of Mormon on everyone’s radar. (With the marketing blitz that has covered all of the South East I am not surprised.) But a show that has quietly just opened is the one I have been waiting for.

Once is the stage version of the 2007 indie film of the same name that last year took eight Tony awards.

With the distinct lack of advertising, you could be forgiven for thinking that the producers are a little dim, however Ms Brocolli (behind the Bond franchise) is certainly not dim nor lacking in the monetary firepower to go head to head with the Mormons; it is just that she does not have to.

The story is pretty simple: a guy is down and about to give up on music and throw away his guitar, then he meets a girl that changes things for him over the course of a few days. His music is given a new breath of life, as is he, and they both fall in love. It sounds soppy and sugary, and to a certain extent it is. However the songs have a raw intensity about them, and Declan Bennet and Zrinkna Cvitesic play the parts of Guy and Girl with a visible passion, literally singing their hearts out and centring the production, and preventing it from becoming sickly.

The set, like the music, is simple, a bar with multiple mirrors on the wall that ends up being a bedroom, shop, and recording studio. Rather than being just a bare space, clever lighting and the use of the cast’s reflections build a three dimensional and intimate performance space that allows focus to be placed on the actors and story. This is in keeping with director John Tiffany previous work – the magnificent Blackwatch – which also relied on story, acting, and had a galley-style stage at the Barbican in 2009.

The 'acoustic' nature of the production continues with the supporting cast also being stage hands and the orchestra, everyone playing an instrument even whilst dancing. The choreography is simple yet brilliant, effortless expressing at times what words or the songs cannot say. Whilst the story is about Guy and Girl, the other characters have some great moments and add to the humour and heartbreak of the story. This could have been a clichéd show set in nondescript Irish bar, but the writers and production team have made it something more, and provided a layer of beauty to the London musical scene. I am already planning my return visit and, if comments in the foyer after the show are anything to go by, so are many others.

Second Degree paid for his own ticket and program.