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Once Review

Declan Bennett (Guy) and Zrinka Cvitesic (Girl) in Once. Photo Credit Manuel Harlan (4)

It would be very difficult to label Once up as a mainstream theatre musical. In fact, it would be very difficult to put the ‘stage production,’ into any specific category at all. No, it isn’t a straight musical, though it does contain original songs with all of the cast partaking in vocal proceedings, but there is no orchestra, and said company all play their own instruments. Is it a play? Well, there certainly is a clear narrative running through it, but I wouldn’t call it a play either. One word that I can and will describe it as though, is most definitely… unique.

Based on the superb 2006 Academy Award winning film of the same name, written and directed by John Carney, and set around the original songs of Glen Hansard, Once revolves around a Dublin based street busker known only as ‘Guy,’ and his relationship with an Eastern-European single mother, billed only as ‘Girl.’ Their chance meeting ignites a spark, not only emotionally, but also musically as they both embark on a journey with a bunch of her friends to create an album together.

I can see that Once could be a production that divides opinion, largely because of its unconventionality. That trait is one that it shares with its original film version, which incidentally, was made on a minuscule budget in the middle of the last decade, but went on to huge international critical and commercial acclaim. Something that people will agree on for the most part, is the sheer amount of talent amongst the company, led brilliantly by Declan Bennett as ‘Guy,’and Zrinka Cviteši? as ‘Girl.’ Each member of this very small cast that steps onto the stage are flawless in their respective roles and their musical performances are all honed to perfection, with virtually every conceivable musical instrument being rolled out onto the stage at various points. The musical numbers are catchy and often beautiful, particularly the breathtaking ‘Falling Slowly.’ The production sets are simple yet effective and the script superbly adapted to the stage (everything is set within the walls of a faux Irish pub, save just a couple of scenes, and if you get there early, you can have an Irish tipple on stage with most of the cast performing around you).

As stated earlier, Once, won’t appeal to everyone, and it really is difficult to section it off into a particular type of theatre-going experience. However, most will get absorbed in this simple tale of love, music and love for music. It’s funny, it’s at times quite emotional, lively, energetic, impressive and always entertaining.

If you were to label this up as a musical, which is exactly how it is sold to us; Once might just be one of the best musicals to have been staged in the West End. It is that good.

Highly recommended.


ONCE is now playing at the Phoenix Theatre, Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0JP and is booking through to May 31st, 2014


Declan Bennett and Zrinka Cviteši? are joined by Valda Aviks (Baruska), Ryan Fletcher (Svec), Aidan Kelly (Billy), Gareth O’Connor (Eamon), Michael O’Connor (Da), Miria Parvin (ex girlfriend), Jos Slovick (Andre), Flora Spencer-Longhurst (Reza), Jez Unwin (Bank Manager) and Gabriel Vick (Emcee).   Alternating the role of Girl’s young daughter Ivanka will be Mia-Jai Bryan, Pacha Anna Green, Honey Joyce and Nancy Ann Jeans.

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