- Chris ORourke
In Landmark Productions’ delightful stage adaptation of “Once”, two wounded souls set about rediscovering what matters most during a handful of days in the fairest of cities. Based on the film by John Carney, with music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, and with book by Enda Walsh, the multi-award winning “Once” has thrilled audiences across the globe. Winner of eight Tony Awards, four Drama Desk Awards, and featuring the Oscar winning song, Falling Slowly, “Once,” returns to Dublin for an extended run at The Olympia Theatre. Which is very good news indeed. For whether you’ve seen it already, or are coming to it for the first time, “Once” is an irresistible joy. A big hearted, bittersweet tale that is likely to be the feel-good show of the summer.
Remaining remarkably faithful to the film, while adding its own unique flourishes, Enda Walsh’s scalpel sharp script hits all the right notes. With economy and precision, Walsh ensures the tale of two star crossed musicians retains all the hallmarks of the original, yet gently suggests some interesting possibilities of his own. As in John Carney’s screenplay, she’s still a serious Czech who plays piano and has a passion for romantic music. He’s from the Northside of Dublin, plays guitar, and has lost his passion for romance and music. Together they drag a broken hoover across the city and recruit a motley crew of madcap musicians to sing for the desperate and the broken hearted, writing songs in an effort to reclaim and remember, to live large and fear free. Keeping the faith and remaining faithful no matter what the cost. Meanwhile, all around them, a multi-cultural Dublin looms ever present as a place and a metaphor, almost a character all on its own. For even when its heart is broken a million times, Dublin always dares to dream.
In what is a brilliant stroke of genius, director John Tiffany opts to forego the usual pre-show protocols in favour of inviting the audience onto the stage before it all begins, welcoming them into “Once’s” pub like set, ingeniously designed by Bob Crowley. With its stools, chairs, tables and instruments constantly sweeping about the space, and an array of mirrors that decorate the walls reflecting snapshots of all they can see, Crowley’s set perfectly evokes the Dublin pub of the Trad session. As is always the case in such places, without word or warning the music begins and energy begins to swirl. As the audience are gently directed to their seat, a little foreshadowing by way of Raglan Road gets the session, and the show, well and truly underway.
With a mix of experienced veterans and new key cast members, under Tiffany’s superb direction, “Once’s” multi-talented ensemble ignites the stage with their joyous merging of music and performance. Faoileann Cunningham as the raunchy Reza, Sandra Dowd Callaghan as the maternal Baruška, Turlough Gunawardhana as Emcee, Ruth Smith as the New York girlfriend, Bob Kelly as the bewildered music producer Eamonn, Sam McGovern as the bugger flipping Andrej, Rickie O’Neill as the death metal drummer Švec, and Bill Murphy as the soft-spoken Da, are wonderful throughout. David Ganly as the bank manager in constant battle with the irrepressible music shop owner of Spanish heritage, Billy, played with scene stealing assurance by Phelim Drew, are a joy to watch. Brian Gilligan as the conflicted Guy, and Niamh Perry as the equally conflicted Girl, inhabit their platonic space of unspoken need with yearning and longing, their gentle but assured chemistry slowly finding its feet, being both heart breaking and uplifting in equal measure. Something that can only deepen as the run progresses.
In “Once,” music isn’t just the food of love, it’s the universal language of life. Heartbreakingly joyous, “Once” offers a sumptuous feast for the soul overflowing with music, laughter, and life affirming exuberance. Yes, it might come with a healthy side of grade A Irish cheddar, but what doesn't taste better with just a little cheese. A big-hearted love song to life, love, music, and Dublin, “Once” is an experience not to be missed under any circumstance. Seen it already? See it again. And getting to see it in its own back yard: it doesn't get any better.
“Once,” based on the film by John Carney, with music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, and with book by Enda Walsh, produced by Landmark Productions in association with Barbara Broccoli, John.N.Hart Jr, Patrick Milling Smith and Fredrick Zollo, and presented in association with MCD at The Olympia Theatre, runs at The Olympia Theatre until August 26th
For more information, visit The Olympia Theatre