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South East
posted/updated: 11 Feb 2020 -
Book by Enda Walsh. Music & Lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markta Irglov
society/company: New Victoria Theatre (professional productions) (directory)
performance date: 10 Feb 2020
venue: New Victoria Theatre, The Ambassadors, Peacocks Centre, Woking, Surrey GU21 6GQ
reviewer/s: Paul Johnson (Sardines review)

Emma Lucia as Girl and Daniel Healy as Guy - Once UK Tour - Photo: Mark Senior


Based on John Carney’s 2007 film, featuring the Oscar-winning song, Falling Slowly, by Glen Hansard and Markta Irglov, the subsequent Broadway stage adaptation (which played in the West End at the Phoenix Theatre from 2013-2015) of Once is now touring the UK & Ireland calling, this week, at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre.

Re-imagined for the tour under regular actor-musician partnership of Director, Peter Rowe, and Musical Supervisor, Ben Goddard, the show – this time with a book by multi-award-winning playwright Enda Walsh – oozes the Irish spirit… ironically, as does the show now playing at London’s Phoenix Theatre, Come from Away.

Some films inevitably adapt to the stage better than others, especially with actor-musicians often being shoe-horned on to the stage to save producers paying for a pit-band. Being produced specifically for actor-musos, this production of Once is one of the best. With just about the right level of naturalistic humour woven into the simplistic storyline by Walsh coupled with Hansard and Irglová’s hypnotic and emotional score, the production – designed by Libby Watson – merely needs a top-drawer cast to completely nail the story.

Luckily, that’s exactly what Rowe and Goddard have obtained. The ensemble piece, where most of the company remain onstage throughout, sees Daniel Healy and Emma Lucia lead as ‘Guy’ and ‘Girl’ – the street busker and the Czech girl, who accidentally meet through a mutual love of music. With the talented songwriter Guy disillusioned over the recent departure of his girlfriend to America, and the quirky straight-talking Girl pushing him to play his songs to her, the pair fall in love over a period of five days. However, with the complication of both having partners in different countries their fate together is destined never to live beyond the week.

Healy and Lucia make a fitting leading pair but it is the entire company that makes the show work so completely, with at least nine other cast members taking on roles to move the storyline along. Dan Bottomly’s Billy and Ellen Chivers’ Reza are two such characters who make their mark well but I cannot stress enough how every single performer onstage contributes to the show’s impact.

The programme doesn’t actually credit the cast with their respective instruments (they even swap indstruments!), but the mix of percussion, acoustic bass, acoustic guitars, violins, cello, mandolin, ukulele and piano is sublime.

The show’s publicity describes its spirit as “heartwarming and life-affirming” – I really can’t argue with that.

Once plays at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre until Saturday, 15th February before continuing its tour.

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The cast of Once - UK Tour - Photo: Mark Senior

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