This Friday I went to see Once the Musical. I'd seen the film years ago and enjoyed it - it was sweet and it was simple, but I'd heard that the musical was something else altogether.
The production keeps the simplicity of the film, but transforms it into something more powerful - more urgent. It fits the medium perfectly, and it is absolutely stunning.
I saw Zrinka Cvitešić as the Girl and David Hunter as the Guy. It was only afterwards that I realised David was understudying the role. The chemistry of the relationship was potent - and both performances so powerful. As soon as Falling Slowly began I had goosebumps.
Looking up the cast it's interesting to see that for many of the ensemble this is their professional and West End debut. There was a real unity of the cast as a whole, but also each individual's performance (Christina Tedders being one great example) was just so engaging.
Perhaps this, alongside John Tiffany's wonderful direction, aided the "raw" feeling of the production. It felt different to your usual West End show - in the style of the music, choreography and just everything really. I guess it felt more real.
The cast was made up of actor-musicians, and while still in character - they really listened to each other. Moving with the music, choreographed - yes, but also the natural movement of musicians getting into a performance and urging each other on.
Zrinka stole the show for me though - a perfect, and suitably unique, leading lady: cheeky, vulnerable and completely powerful. Her solo of The Hill (click here for a video) was stunning, and just heartbreaking.
The score for this musical is one which you could listen to amongst friends and, without knowledge of the show, they'd likely not guess it was from a musical. Comparisons could be made to Damien Rice (especially with the female vocals) or Ray Lamontagne - both some of my favourite artists. I look forward to finding the soundtrack and listening to it - a lot.
The only part of the production that jarred a little for me were some of the comic moments. The acting and direction were great, but I think I just felt the effect of it sitting aside such natural energies elsewhere.
The Phoenix Theatre was perfect for this kind of production, with the right level of intimacy that's rare to find in the West End. A nice touch also was being able to go onstage for a drink before the show. Then the onstage music beginning before the performance "officially" began - capturing the atmosphere and camaraderie of a lively Dublin pub.
I'm quite tempted to try and see it again before Declan Bennett leaves the cast. There's a lot I want to see at the moment so it feels frivolous, but it's just such a beautiful show.
There's a moment where the Girl is telling the Guy that people need to hear his songs, and I think that really comes across in the spirit of the show. I don't know the story behind the film, but I do know Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová co-wrote the songs.
You can tell that these songs are written by musicians (not with intention for the creation of a musical) and I think it makes a real difference. Writing specifically for a musical, even with artistic integrity, there must be a lot of things to consider - commercially, structurally, for the audience etc.
Rather than going for the heartbreaker, or the powerful end-of-act-one song, these songs have an authenticity to them. These songs do need to be heard, and this musical really is a celebration of that - as well as a wonderfully imperfect love story.
Once the Musical plays at the Phoenix Theatre on Charing Cross Road. Get Into London Theatre currently have discounted tickets for Once (alongside many other shows, and with no booking fee) between £40 - £25. We paid £40 for centre of row B - which are usually £69.50. Quite a ridiculous bargain!