Once is originally based upon the 2006 film of the same name. The same music creative’s from the film kept their songs in the show when it opened on Broadway in 2012 and then the West End in 2013. The show is unfortunately closing at the Phoenix before going on tour on the 21st of March 2015 so grab your tickets whilst you can! The main conceit of the show is about how the ‘Guys’ ex-girlfriend now lives in New York and since her moving away he’s been awfully depressed, until he meets the ‘Girl’. Who, upon meeting, discovers his passion for music and reignites the fire in him and persuades him to go after his girlfriend. Now of course, no musical would be complete without arguments and drama and Once is no exception, there are ups and downs, unexpected twists and a clever use of subtitles.
The stage at The Phoenix Theatre is pre-set as a working bar for the audience enabling them to order their pre-show drinks from the Once bar – resulting in a lot of selfies being taken on stage. The main set of the show is that of a music shop, however it doubles up as a multitude of things through cleverly utilised scene changes.
Once the musical is a rather unique show because you never learn the names of the two protagonists – they are only ever noted as ‘Guy’ and ‘Girl’ – which is why audience members have often said it is hard to connect with them as you don’t even know their names. Furthermore the show itself could be viewed as a rather postmodern art work due to its use of lack of theatre magic and everything always being exposed to the audience. The use of changing scene by isolating sections on stage in square lights and only having action taking place in the squares is a genius idea for something so minimalistic. Additionally, due to the fact that the whole cast are specialist Actor Musos and are constantly on stage at all times – voyeurism, another postmodern feature – they move all their own set around, adding to the lack of theatre magic as well as adding to the comedy aspect of the show. The cast themselves demonstrate their incredible talent as Actor Musos in the penultimate song ‘Gold (Reprise)’ due to the sheer talent shown on stage with them singing the song completely acapella, with no instruments even at the beginning on the song. From having seen the show a few times before, I noticed Ronan was changing a couple of the melodies, opting out of the higher notes in some of the songs. However, that said, overall he did a good job, a lot better than I imagine the musical theatre audience expect him to have done being a pop artist.
Although the show is primarily a love story, there are lots of comedic moments from start to finish. As aforementioned the cast moving their own set around provide plenty of comedy moments in the show, the main one that springs to mind is right near the beginning when the Girl is talking to the Guy about having a broken hoover and as she is doing so another member of the cast wheels the hoover over to her creating the illusion in the scene as if it’s magically appeared. Additional comedy scenes throughout the performance are moments such as the death metal drummer scene, the bad singing banker scene and the moment when the Guy awkwardly and sub-textually implies sexual relations with the Girl to be flatly refused.
As Actor Musos these performers posses a whole new world of talents – their immense musical abilities. People often talk about how Once lacks in choreography, however, it doesn’t. Once has plenty of choreography it is just not the norm or what people deem it to be. It is more movement, however, this is all appropriate to the style of the show, because the show is very folksy the movement employed is of a pedestrian style. But, this does not mean it does not have an impact; during the song ‘Say It To Me Now’ four ensemble members are sat at tables performing very small, gestural movements and at the climax of the song they all throw their heads back and lift their arms up from their wrists and just because it isn’t a big tap chorus or the tricks that the West End is becoming more accustomed too does not mean it doesn’t leave an impact. The whole of Once as a show is subtle and this moment of choreography proves that through the power of the simplicity of the movement and because it’s performed in unison it still leaves a lasting impression on audience members.
Stand out moments from tonight’s show for me were Ronan Keating’s heartfelt rendition of the song ‘Say It To Me Now’ because, not only does he do it justice vocally, he also plays it with such passion – similarly to the rest of the show. And last but not least, although not a single moment, the casts continuous passion exuding through their playing from start to finish.
Reviewed by Thomas Yates
ONCE is playing at the Phoenix Theatre until 21 March 2015.