The brilliant Once is to close in the west end in March, following Ronan Keating’s departure from the role. I have to admit, I was a little shocked when I read the announcement, as when I visited little more than a month ago the house was full of a happy audience. I found Once to be an uplifting and haunting love story that stayed with me for days after I left the theatre and indeed London. It does sadden me that I won’t be able to see the show again, most likely, and so I would like to present my top five (of many) reasons to see Once at the Phoenix Theatre before 21st March 2015.
5. The Pre-Show
Once offers a unique experience even before the show begins, as the audience take their seats to the sounds of the cast (who double as the musicians for the show) performing on the stage. Its loud, chaotic and utterly infectious to watch the ultra talented cast dance around the stage performing old Irish songs infused with a Czech spirit. A favourite of mine was ‘The Chandlers Wife’ a traditional irish song, filled with bawdy chants and a wonderful energy, but all the songs set the mood wonderfully. The transition from pre-show to show is inspired, a seamless move from lively jigs to the haunting opener, Leave.
4. The Bar
Sticking with the pre-show hijinks for now, the stage doubles as a bar during the pre-show performance (as well as intermission) where audience members can venture onto a west end stage (as the cast perform) to get their refreshments. All drinks come in a souvenir travel cup, bearing the name of the musical on the side. For me this was an incredible experience, as I know it was the closest I’ll come to a west end stage, and so the feeling was unreal. The drinks cost slightly more from this bar, but in my opinion this price is well worth both the souvenir cup and the experience of a west end stage.
3. The Humour
Once is a funny show. You don’t expect the humour (or at least I didn’t) but right from the first interaction of Guy and Girl about that fateful hoover, the warm humour is right there. I was giggling right through most of the first act, and in particular the characters of Billy, the Bank Manager and Svec engaged me immediately. The humour is at nobody’s expense and is never bad natured, its just the human humour found in these situations and I think that that is something very special about this show.
2. The Romance
Once is advertised as a love story, and it does not disappoint on that count. However the unconventional romance between Guy and Girl is far from predictable and leaves a ghost that stays with you long after you leave the theatre. I found myself drifting back to the moments after ‘Sleeping’ and ‘The Hill’ and the mess of emotions they made me feel long after I thought I’d put Once out of my mind. A grown up love story of two people with lives and responsibilities that get in the way of their feelings and their wants, it isn’t something you can quickly forget.
1. The Music
Of course the music of Once would be number one, because as much as the show is a love story, it is also a love letter to music. Every song in the show is beautifully arranged and performed by the cast and the onstage band. From Guy standing alone in the slowly darkening auditorium to the final notes of the Falling Slowly reprise, I don’t think there is a note wrong. The music of Once is not standard musical theatre fare, instead they present a guitar driven folk that fits perfectly with the show’s North Strand of Dublin setting. Of all the London shows I’ve seen (and i’ll admit its not as many as some) I don’t think there is another show that engages with its music in quite the same way, and in my opinion, this puts Once into a league of its own, and I will be sad to see it go.
By Becky Dixon
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