Set over five days in Dublin, Once tells the familiar story of a Guy (Ronan Keating) whose life is completely changed by a chance meeting with a Girl (Jill Winternitz). She inevitably brings out the best in him and his music, gives him confidence in himself and takes him on a journey he never thought possible.
It has to be said that the show is something of a star vehicle – the star in question being Ronan Keating. The cast in general are excellent: the comic timing, the moments of sadness, the chemistry among them is all top drawer stuff. Keating never quite manages to meld into that chemistry, but this doesn’t stop him from turning in a charismatic performance with some pleasing vocals and generally good (if subtle) acting.
It might have been difficult not to put on a good show with such a brilliant book to work with. Placing manic-pixie-dream-girl problems aside, Enda Walsh’s script is hilarious and touching. The comedy comes with a natural flow that never feels forced and there are some real human moments to be found. The language too, which might easily have fallen into a parody of the Dublin dialect, feels natural.
The direction of the script (by John Tiffany) is smooth and admirable. This is all complemented by a strong set design (Bob Crowley) and great lighting design (Natasha Katz). Between them, they seem to solve the ever-present issue of translating film to stage by placing all the action in a pub, as if the story is being told to you by a local raconteur over a few drinks. Despite this, you are transported around Dublin, and are even shown the bay in one moment of breathtaking lighting.
The music, devoid of woodwind and brass, is nonetheless good folk rock. It never promises to be anything but, yet over two hours it lacks a variation in colour. What variation it does find is in Czech influences (that were surprisingly sparse considering that half the characters were Czech), or in with doing away with instruments altogether for an arresting a cappella arrangement in one song. If folk rock is what you like, this is the show for you.
Focusing on the paradoxical, ephemeral yet weighty complications that beset love stories across the world, Once is honest, funny and thoroughly worthwhile.
Once is at Phoenix Theatre until 21st March 2015, for further information or to book visit here.