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Once: The Musical – Falling Slowly from Screen to Stage

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It was with mild trepidation that I entered the theatre to see the London adaptation of the successful indie flick Once. I remember exactly when I first saw the film. An ex who loved live music insisted that I watch it, and within five minutes I was riveted. It’s a clever, original plot punctuated with a superb soundtrack that I still listen to now. It affected me so much that I bought tickets to see the film’s stars and musical composers Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová singing the soundtrack live. You could say that I am quite a fan…

Many have not even seen the film, let alone want to see a stage adaptation, but they may be aware of the Oscar-winning song ‘Falling Slowly’ – a success putting a small indie film on a wider stage and making it ripe for theatrical adaptation.

Back to the theatre. Curtain up and the violins start to play. There was no need to me for worry, the musical kept strictly to the film plot (see below) via a more visceral, uplifting medium.The film is on Lovefilm/Netflix, but I highly recommend this live version first.

Once: The Musical is an unconventional story about the meeting of two musical minds (an Irish Busker and a Czech pianist) who share a week merging their hybrid musical talents and inadvertently changing each others’ futures. But this play is more than a just a romance, it’s a story about the power of music and community.

There are wonderful quirks in Once, from usage of the entire stage, high and low to convey the story, plus a smart way of showcasing cast members speaking Czech. There’s even a tight scene-change arrangement. And it is obvious that the cast are a close-knit group. The show’s ‘stars’ are Declan Bennett and Zrinka Cvitesic (who generate excellent chemistry) but to not mention the rest of the cast – especially Tim Parker, Valda Aviks and Gareth O’ Connor would be negating the input of all in this family project.The thing that most marks out Once:The Musical as different to the film is that the full cast are an instrinic part of the story; the entire ensemble is almost always on stage and each cast member is also a musician – a conceit aiding the warmth of the unfolding story. The production has a heavy Irish feel – as it is set in Dublin – and the cast ably blend the poignancy of the slower numbers with the thigh-slapping joy of rabble rousers, like my favourite song “When Your Mind’s Made Up” – see the video below.

Once: The Musical is a fine addition to the portfolio of spin-offs from John Carney’s original movie. If you’re in town and looking for a night out, let me  highlight the on-stage bar for patrons before the play starts and during the intermission. Les Miserables doesn’t have one of those (and could do with one!)

Good tunes, a heart-warming story and the opportunity to get bladdered – I say go see Once: The Musical. Buy your tickets here.

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