Once – Olympia Theatre – Review by Emily Elphinstone
After its incredible success on Broadway and the West End, it seems right that Once has come to Dublin; where the play, and the film it was based on, are so intrinsically located. Bob Crowley’s brilliantly designed set is instantly recognisable as a classic Irish pub, and the audience are welcomed in with an impromptu trad session: Inviting people on the stage to join in the pre-show craic, and moving seamlessly from tune to tune, the official start is almost imperceptible.
Enda Walsh’s script doesn’t lean too heavily on the original film. Instead it creates the same unique atmosphere, while making full use of the possibilities of the stage. Alongside the central ‘Him’ (Tom Parsons) and ‘Her’ (Megan O’Riordan), Walsh develops the world around them, showing ‘Her’ innate ability to bring change to others; and making the audience really care what happens to each and every one of them.
Megan O’Riordan has real spark in the central role, finding the right balance between ‘I don’t joke, I’m Czech’, and an innate enthusiasm for life and music; and her singing voice is mesmerising. Tom Parsons also works well as ‘Him’, though in places he lacked some of that relaxed Dublin charm which makes the character so likeable, and it seems a shame that such a local character was cast from overseas; particularly in comparison to the wonderful Phelim Drew, who steals the show as music shop owner Billy.
The real secret of Once’s success is its use of the ensemble. The multi-instrumental score is performed entirely by the cast, who remain on stage throughout, with their enticing collection of instruments. This feeds the show’s energy, making the bustling scene changes a joy to watch; as characters enter and exit almost as if they are retelling their own story in the pub afterwards. All elements of the production work seamlessly together under John Tiffany’s direction; most apparent perhaps in the wonderfully simple Howth Head scene, created with Natasha Katz’s understated lighting design.
Once is not a classic all-singing all-dancing musical (though technically they do all sing and dance), but it’s all the better for that. A true ensemble piece on and off the stage, there is an understated charm so innately Dublin that it’s hard to imagine watching it anywhere else.
Once runs at the Olympia Theatre until August 22nd.