Once is definitely not enough

Sorry to have a second theatre-related post in one week, but I was too excited to wait. Yesterday I finally got to see the latest hit West End show, Once – and it was a-mazing. But then I kind of knew it would be.

A lot of people don’t realise that the show is based on a film, which just happens to be one of my favourites of all time. I first discovered Once through my sister, who saw it in Canada and then proceeded to go on about how great it was for months. Unfortunately it’s quite a hard movie to describe, so I wasn’t completely convinced – although I probably should have known better, as she and I usually like the same kind of stuff. Anyway when the film arrived in the UK (as by this time had my sister) I agreed to go along to see it with her. And it turned out she was right, it was brilliant.

I’ll attempt to summarise: the movie’s set in Dublin, where a guy meets a girl while out busking. They’re both lonely and recently heartbroken; his ex cheated on him and moved to London, and she’s a single mother from the Czech Republic. She also has a broken hoover, which just seems like adding insult to injury, really. Fortunately, when he’s not writing songs he fixes vacuum cleaners, and this happy coincidence brings them together. In return, she convinces him that his songs are way too good for nobody to ever hear them, and the result is a life-changing few days, a love story with a difference, and a lot of fantastic music.

The movie was made on a tiny budget, and the two main characters, known only as Guy and Girl, were played not by actors, but by musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who also wrote all the music. After Once, they went on tour as The Swell Season; my sister and I saw them a couple of times in London and were distraught when they finally went their separate ways.

Luckily, around about then it was announced that a stage version would be hitting Broadway soon, so we waited impatiently for it to reach London, which it finally did earlier this year.

Of course there was always a risk that, loving the film as much as we do, the show would never be able to live up to our expectations. But the good news is it totally did. The cast, who are all musicians, came out on stage about 20 minutes before the show started and played a few songs; they looked like they were having a blast and it was certainly a lot more fun than sitting waiting for a curtain to go up. The set’s a bar (and there’s something pretty cool about it, but I don’t want to give everything away) and when cast members aren’t in a scene they just go and sit at the edge of the stage with their instruments, ready to join in as needed.

Just like the movie, the charm of the show is in its simplicity. The developing relationship between the Guy and Girl is the main focus, but the show also introduces some additional characters, who are all, in some way, affected by their meeting: a bank manager, a music shop owner, one of the Girl’s flatmates and others. Although this meant the story at times was a bit different to the one I know so well, that wasn’t a bad thing. And the big advantage to going in already knowing the film was that I could sit back, relax and enjoy the music.

Once is not just about amazing songs; it’s also about the brilliant cast, the clever staging and the moving story. And don’t just take my word for it: a standing ovation and three curtain calls should back me up.

I can’t recommend the show (and the film, and the CDs) enough – although if you’re the emotional type, you’ll probably end up in tears. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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