Review: Once

Emma Lucia as Girl and Daniel Healy as Guy. Photographs: Mark Senior

Before we stepped into the Grand Opera House, my knowledge of Once totalled precisely four minutes 40 seconds.

Once the musical
  • Grand Opera House
  • Mon 3 – Sat 8 Feb 2020
  • From £13
  • More details

That is the time it takes to listen to the famous song from the movie, Falling Slowly. Other than that I came to the show in relative ignorance.

Now, though, I know much more. I know it is a remarkable theatrical experience. I know it is performed by an incredibly talented cast who switch musical instruments with the same ease as the rest of us switch TV channels. And I know this: you should go and see it.

Even if you’ve seen the film a dozen times, go see the live version. This is what theatre is all about.

The Girl and the Guy

It all begins before we take our seats. Most of the cast are on stage – the set perfectly recreates a Dublin pub – and kicking up a folk-rock storm. There are two accordionists, many a fiddler and umpteen guitarists. Then there’s Rosalind Ford and her stupendous levitating cello that she swirls around the stage like a majorette’s baton.

Enter next our heroes. There’s not much plot to tell you about: this is very much boy-meets-girl – or rather Guy meets Girl, as those are the names attributed to the pair in our programmes.

Guy is busking miserably on a Dublin street and is about to ditch the music for good – until Czech Girl pops up from nowhere to turn his life upside down in five days.

Emma Lucia does brilliantly as Girl, packing ten pylons-worth of power to jolt the dejected dead-Guy-walking back to life. She is bright, funny and serious by turns, but you cannot draw your eyes from her.

Daniel Healy judges his performance note-perfectly too. Always likeable, and a tremendous musician, he allows us to see how Girl heals his heart and relights the twinkle in his eye.

Warmth, humour, honour

An extraordinarily exuberant cast
The supporting cast are superb singers and musicians to a man. And the leads deliver a series of character studies filled with warmth, humour and honour; whether it’s Susannah Van Den Berg as the Czech matriarch Baruska, tender and frightening by turns, or Lloyd Gorman as coffee-swilling metalhead Svec complete with quick-release sweatpants, or Samuel Martin as the conflicted bank manager, with his accountant’s head overpowered by his musician’s heart.

The music is stunning, in particular the a cappella rendering of Gold. The second act could do with a silly uptempo number to provide a counterpoint to so many songs of yearning, but this is a minor quibble. Put simply this puts the craic into a cracking night out.

And it is hard to escape the fact that Once tells the story of the friendship between an Irish and a Czech family… three nights after Brexit day.