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Music Once

Published on July 30th, 2015 | by pluincee



Landmark Productions have a strong back-catalogue of critically acclaimed productions, including numerous Irish and World Premieres, built up over the last decade. So it’s no wonder, really, that their current production of Once (running in the Olympia Theatre until September 12th) is as vibrant as it is compelling.

The story will be a familiar one to most Irish music lovers – that of John Carney’s fourth feature film; the Oscar winning, low-budget, not-quite-love story – and so I shan’t spend too long recounting it. Though if you’ve not seen the film, it’s wise to do so before the musical (I am told) in order to gain a sense of story and context for some of the jokes and plot points on stage.

Essentially, Guy meets Girl, develops feelings for her (and she for him), but they are both in and out of love with others (made more complex by distance and children) and so don’t hook up. But Girl, motivating and uncompromising, cajoles Guy into recording a professional quality demo CD of his music. All over the course of a week. SPOILER ARERT! They part ways after the recording, he leaving the country, and she preparing for her husband’s return.

There are, of course, some minor alterations to the plot and dialogue from Carney’s original into the book by Enda Walsh, but they are all forgiven, and are woven into the story in such a way as to make it seem as though they were always present.

On stage at Once

On arrival in the theatre, patrons in the stalls are invited to the bar, which is on the stage, to enjoy their pre-performance drinks (run by theatre bar-staff). About 20 minutes before curtain, the cast appear, wielding an impressive array of instruments, from guitars to ‘cellos, accordians to mandolins. They jam livelily on stage, with patrons milling around, and eventually settle into a hauntingly beautiful rendition of ‘On Raglan Road’, after which the musical proper begins.

It is clear throughout that the entire cast are very musical, switching between instruments with a deftness that is rarely seen in one person, let alone 15. The cast, who rarely leave the stage for more than a scene-change, sit around the edges of the set when not active in a scene, accompany each number with live music. The arrangements are sometimes simple, but often complex with melodies and counterpoints filling the auditorium for the duration of the show.

It’s hard to pick out individual performances and analyse them, but going in, I was concerned that Glen Hansard’s vocal style from the original film (and, indeed from his impressive back catalogue with The Frames, The Swell Season, and solo) wouldn’t be recreated faithfully. It certainly isn’t an easy one to mimic.

Tom Parsons does an impressive job of channeling the raw, passionate, conflicted timbre of Hansard’s voice, as well as his character. Megan Riordan has an impeccable Czech accent, even when singing, which aids in the suspense of disbelief throughout.

The ‘supporting cast’ (who really are as much of the show as the two leads) are also wonderfully talented comedic actors, and the interplay between them all provides a refreshing joie de vivre to a play that is ultimately about two soul-searching lovesick tortured artists.

The wonderfully simple staging (one set, which provides the backdrop to everything, with simple representations in front of it for Girl’s home, Guy’s bedroom, the bank, the coast, etc.) pays tribute to the low-budget original and ensures that the audience’s focus throughout is on the incredible performances being delivered by each and every member of the ensemble.

This is a must-see show, for anyone who is a fan of either musical theatre, or the original film version.

About the Author

Can be found on twitter (@pluincee) or on his own blog (http://short.ie/pluincee).

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