My sister may have photobombed my photo
I have never been to a musical where the music isn’t loud, in your face and screaming for attention. Those big musical numbers are what make musicals in the theatre musicals. However Once,which is based on a movie I have never seen by John Carney, is nothing like any other musical I have ever seen. It’s sweet, simple, and charming.
Set in the Phoenix theatre, Once doesn’t have the massive sets, in your face colours, outlandish costumes and very, very loud music. Instead there is a relatively small cast who do everything – dance, sing and play all the music – and all of this gave Once a level of intimacy that I never thought a West End musical could ever get. It’s quietly brilliant thanks to the cast, John Tiffany’s direction and Bob Crowley’s stage design.
Apparently it was Tiffany’s idea to get members of the audience to go on stage for a drink and a listen on the bar on the stage. The cast sings, the audience settles and before you quite know when it happened, the production starts. This is a guy meets girl story – nothing more and nothing less. In fact the characters are called Guy – a miserable, angry, depressed guitar playing Irish man played by David Hunter and Girl – a Czech piano player played by Kill Winternitz.
They meet over music and a broken hoover in a touchingly funny scene and over the next five days Girl helps Guy realise that his dreams aren’t without reach. In the process they fall for each other. As I said I haven’t seen the movie Once but I have read that while the songs in the movie feature in the musical, there are newer ones too. And they are beautiful. Days after I saw it, I am still humming. Especially the songs ‘Falling Slowly’ and ‘Mind’s Made Up’.
The musical is touching in its silences (there is this one moment when Guy and Girl are looking at the a night time Dublin where the pauses are endless and lovely) and very, very funny. One of Girl’s roomates – a coffee drinking drum player who at one point pulls off his adidas jogging bottoms with huge panache – was the tip of a very, very good cast. At another point when Guy announces to a bar (where he is about to perform) that the song is his own the only response we as the audience hear is ‘aw, fuck’.
Every member of the cast plays a variety of instruments including the fiddle, guitar, drums, accordion, cello, and mandolin. They weave themselves in and out of the narrative seamlessly, becoming characters when they need to and silent members watching when they don’t. The songs weren’t forced, they weren’t unnaturally place – everything was so organic that I almost, almost believed I was there in that Dublin bar where this romance was unfolding.
As a brilliant aside, the stage became the interval bar. For the first time in my life I went and bought a drink in a theatre only because I wanted to climb on a West End stage and because all the drinks were given in a Once beaker.