REVIEW: Once, New Wolsey Theatre ✭✭✭✭

Paul T Davies reviews Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova’s Tony Award-winning musical Once which is making its regional debut at the New Wolsey Theatre.

Once the musical New Wolsey Theatre
Emma Lucia (Girl) and Daniel Healey (Guy) in Once. Photo: Mike Kwasniak

New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich.
11 September 2018
4 Stars
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It’s taken a while for Glen Hansard and Marḱ́eta Irglová’s Tony Award winning musical to make its regional theatre debut, but this co-production between the New Wolsey Theatre and the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch, has well been worth the wait. It’s a deceptively simple story of Girl meets Guy, he a Dublin busker on the verge of walking away from music, his heart broken by his previous relationship, she full of optimism and common sense, the instigator and driving force of change. In the space of a week their lives change forever, as they take a gamble on doing things once- recording his songs, daring to move on to the next part of the story. Enda Walsh, who wrote the book, calls it an “invisible” love story that creeps up on you and moves your heart before you have even realised it. It’s also about identity, with much fun to be had in the Irish/Czech clash between the characters, and about love across borders and barriers.

Once New Wolsey Theatre
The cast of Once. Photo: Mike Kwasniak

Director Peter Rowe has forged an enviable reputation at this venue for actor/musician shows, and Once is a perfect fit for the New Wolsey. The ensemble is terrific, swapping instruments with ease and working together with harmonic beauty. However, the show does belong to Emma Lucia’s Girl, an outstanding performance of warmth, common sense, encouragement and vulnerability. Girl is married, though separated, and has a young daughter, these are the barriers she cannot break, but she does break your heart with her piano playing and vocals.  There is an audible sigh in the auditorium as the subtitles reveal that what she has said in Czech really means “I love you”, even though she says it’s going to rain. Daniel Healy is a perfect fit for Guy, although I found some of his angst ridden vocals too loud and over sung at first- but he mellows as Girl mellows him and he grows as the musical progresses. Through Girl we meet her family, and Kate Robson Stuart shines as Reza, and Lloyd Gorman mines a depth of comedy effectively as Svec.  I found Sean Kingsley a little pantomimic as Billy, owner of the music shop, his over the top performance out of keeping with the mood of the show, but the audience thoroughly enjoyed his performance. Samuel Martin is scene stealing as the Bank Manager, desperate to express his creativity and break out from behind his desk, making the most of his hilarious song Abandoned in Brandon.

Once review New Wolsey Theatre
The cast of Once. Photo: Mike Kwasniak

On a beautiful, multi location set by Libby Watson, the show really shines when the ensemble work together, the choral  version of Gold is spine tingling, and throughout the show the vocals make love with the theatre’s acoustics, it is a gorgeous show. The standout song is Falling Slowly, and Walsh’s book keeps to the reality of the film, this is not a “jazz hands” kind of musical, in fact it’s quite melancholic in places. But it is as unashamedly romantic as a kiss under a street lamp at the cobbled road in the rain, and the reprise of Falling Slowly at the end is so moving you will want to see this production more than Once.

New Wolsey Theatre until 22 September 2018

Queens Theatre Hornchurch from 3 – 20 October 2018

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