Reviewed by Julie Hayward
Once is a beautiful stage adaptation of the film, written and directed by John Carney, which was originally a book by Edna Walsh. It is the music and lyrics that really bring the play to life and they are by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova.
We entered the stalls at the Belgrade to an already packed stage, it looked like the party had started, traditional Irish music was being enjoyed by friendly group upon the stage, from that welcome I knew it was going to be a feel-good kind of evening, just what I needed at this time of year. The set was a traditional Irish pub that you could find in any Irish community but probably set in Dublin with mahogany polished wood and simple tables and chairs dotted around, the walls were full of trinkets and pictures that would be reminiscent of an Irish bar. We settled into our seats a began to chat with the foot-tapping music in the background we could have been customers enjoying a drink in that Dublin bar.
Slowly the lights dimmed and our attention is drawn to a lone guitarist, likely a busker. This is the lead actor Guy played by Daniel Healy. And so the storytelling music begins, we understand from the lyrics he is at the point of giving up on his music, when he is found by a Girl, played by Emma Lucia. On writing this review I have just realised that they have probably purposely haven’t been given traditional names, as in it could be any guy who meets a girl story.
Anyhow, Emma and Daniel play endearing lead characters, Girl has a quirky comical nature and Guy a boyish Irish charm. It’s their destiny to meet and it is her belief in him that turns his life around. Both performers are very talented singers and musicians, Emma is an enchanting pianist and their duets are beautiful.
The rest of the cast come and go in the background of the performance but their presence is essential to the show, they move in sync with each other and accompany the songs with a vast array of instruments and a variety of genres from traditional Irish, folk, country and even classical. There are several amazing solo performances and even an odd little contemporary dance scene.
As the story continues, we are introduced to more characters and their individual backstory. There is a lot of humour from the supporting cast and the building relationships are very believable, the little girl who plays Ivonka is looked after well by everyone on a busy stage.
There is clever use of the stage with sub-titles projected overhead to totally make us believe another language is being spoken. Whist the bar is the background for most of the show it hosts a variety of locations and the night sky appears at one point to take us to the shore.
The second act is shorter than the first and the story ends a little abruptly leaving me wanting a more rounded conclusion but maybe that’s the point, that life goes on. We were then treated to more energising and uplifting tunes to see us on our way.
If you want a gentle feel-good night out then I recommend you go and see ‘Once’.
Tickets cost from £13.50 (booking fees may apply).
Once is at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry from 10-14 March 2020, for more information or to book tickets visit www.belgrade.co.uk or call the box office on 02476 553055.
Belgrade Theatre, Belgrade Square, Coventry, CV1 1GS | 02476 55 3055