Music Reigns Supreme With Once @ Phoenix Theatre


Photo: Alastair Muir

If music be the food of love, then in watching Once we have just ordered, consumed and licked clean the plate of a roast beef dinner. Succulent meat, crunchy potatoes, all the trimmings and finished off with a slathering of gravy, oh God the gravy. And needless to say, it’s love.

Let’s get straight to it. The music is wonderful. Seriously, wonderful. The small ensemble cast play a variety of instruments including guitar, piano, drums, mandolin, accordion, banjo, violin, uke, cajon and they chop and change these instruments like keys at a swingers party. The singing too is earthy, believable and note-perfect. There is some serious talent here.

But it is the Guy and Girl (our anonymous protagonists) who dominate the stage. And why not? It’s their story. Guy (Declan Bennett) is an Irish street-busking hoover-repair man mourning the loss of his latest amour to New York, when Girl (Zrinka Cvitešić), a Czech national, swoops into his life with a broken hoover, a love of music and a won’t-take-no-for-an-answer attitude to his reluctance to drag himself out of his despair.

The songs, by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, really are the heart of the production. We go from rip roaring Ceilidh numbers full of foot stamping and shoulder barging to exquisite numbers so delicate, you didn’t even realise it had begun before you are swept into its emotive crescendo.

Clever staging undoubtedly plays its part in this production. A curving Dublin pub adorned with mirrors is our static backdrop, with moveable props the only indication that the location has changed. The cast are on stage throughout, blending into the background before erupting naturally into song or effortlessly stepping into the role of a new character.

Is the story new? No. Is it innovative and daring? No (although not all love stories begin with the agreement ‘you make hoover suck and I play music’). But is it not just a love story, it is also a music story, and the musicality in Once is faultless.

Once runs until 30 November at Phoenix Theatre, 110 Charing Cross Road, Borough of Camden, WC2H 0JP. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary review ticket. 

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