BWW Review: ONCE, Ashcroft Playhouse Fairfield Halls
Like a training exercise in charades, Once was er... once a film (an Academy Award winning film) and became a Broadway and West End stage hit, toured around the world and now hits Croydon en route to a theatre near you. That's some pulling power - and it's not hard to see how the alchemy works.
"Guy" is ready to walk away from his guitar - maybe his life - until "Girl", bubbling with the kind of bonhomie and energy that a labrador puppy would envy, picks him up, dusts him down and makes him believe that he's the next Ed Sheeran. She's Czech and soon enough we meet her expat community sharing a house in Dublin, all of whom can lend a hand with a fiddle or a box or cello. Yes, for the first time in history, the Irish are not the immigrants with natural musical skills!
That said, there's an awful lot of Roddy Doyle's The Commitments (the journey from page to screen to stage more conventional for that one) in Enda Walsh's book, spiced with a little Dick Whittington and a soupçon of X Factor. And that warm and comfy set of reference points is one of the big reasons for the show's success.
Another is the score. Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová (the original Guy and Girl) have written a pleasing set of songs that call upon traditional Irish music (Pogueishly), rock anthems (Red Hot Chilli Pepperishly) and mega ballads (cigarette-lighter-in-the-airishly). "Falling Slowly" got the pair their Oscar, and that's the standout from a set that pleased the audience but I found a little samey.
Best reason to see the show is the cast of musician-actors who (apart from a misfiring interlude of interpretative dance that reminded me of one of Pan's People's more outré segments) display a tremendous range of talents. They need to because the plot is (and this is the flipside of its easy familiarity) hackneyed and predictable - but we're never far from another fine performance, so listen up!
Daniel Healy leads as our downcast hero raised up by the positive attitude and reluctant love of Emma Lucia's Girl. Both sing well, though I worried about Healy's full-throated passion lasting through the tour. I'd have liked to have heard more of Lucia in Carole King mode at the piano, but at least I didn't have to be concerned about her larynx!
The ensemble cast offer super support under musical supervisor, Ben Goddard. Ellen Chivers and James William-Pattison take the singing plaudits, while Lloyd Gorman's death metal drummer with a coffee habit gets the laughs and Dan Bottomley and Samuel Martin turn on the charm in their odd couple bromance.
And if I'm a little jaded by another rags-to-riches story (and, it has to be said, somewhat disconcerted that, in 2020, love + success + money can be suggested as a pretty thoroughgoing solution to a personal mental illness crisis with no medical intervention required), the audience around me were on their feet at the curtain. Job done.
And all for the price of four pints of Guinness in Temple Bar.
Photo Mark Senior