Once, Phoenix Theatre – 17/02/2015

Once I’ve just spent a good few minutes trying to think of some hilarious pun relating to the fact that I’ve seen this show twice, rather than Once, but I’m afraid this is the best I’ve got: The show might be called Once, but it definitely warrants a second viewing and that’s exactly what I did last night! It had been over a year since I last saw the show and it was every bit as brilliant as I remembered it. It follows the story of a guy and a girl (I’m not kidding, the characters are actually called ‘Guy’ and ‘Girl’) who grow close as a result of a broken hoover and a lot of wonderful music. It’s a very different show to a lot of the other elaborate, highly produced musical experiences on offer in the West End at the moment (I’m looking at you, Wicked and Miss Saigon) and that’s what makes it so unique and special.

The first thing you notice about the show is the stage. It’s all performed in the set of an Irish pub and you can even go on stage before and buy a drink, which all came with their own souvenir cup and were surprisingly reasonably priced – ranging from £5.50 for a J2O to about £7 for some wine. I actually managed to nab a free cup as someone had discarded theirs on the side (it’s currently being thoroughly rinsed in the dishwasher due to potential germ threat!). The simplicity of the stage really adds to the impressive nature of the show. Lights, desks and chairs are used to show different rooms and pieces of furniture which makes the show seem even more authentic. It’s very nicely designed and the use of sound also helps the audience to imagine different locations. There’s also really lovely scene where Guy and Girl go to the back of the stage and pretty little lights are used to show Dublin below them. It definitely proves that you don’t need a big set with lots of tricks to have a beautiful and engaging performance.

The actors mostly remain on stage throughout as they are essentially the orchestra. They play their own instruments on stage whilst dancing – very impressive considering one of the instruments was a cello! I was definitely interested to see how Ronan Keating was doing in his West End debut as Guy. Obviously his vocals and guitar playing were on point but his acting did seem quite forced at times – hardly surprising though considering he’s not done live theatre before. It didn’t really ruin the show too much but I do have a bit of a problem with ‘stars’ in roles just to sell tickets – I would have preferred to see a lesser known but more suited actor perform the role to perfection than a big name perform it to a lower standard. The rest of the cast were great; Mathew Hamper was brilliant as Andre and Jill Winternitz made an excellent girl.

Another thing that made the experience so special was the friendly nature of all the staff at the theatre – definitely not something I normally notice but I thought they deserved a shout out! Everyone I spoke to was very kind and helpful, and an especially big thanks to the on stage bar staff who provided me with my (used) souvenir cup! I also met Mathew Hamper, Jill Winternitz and Loren O’Dair at stage door after the show who were all very lovely and definitely deserved just as much appreciation as Ronan Keating who was instantly swarmed the minute he stepped outside (poor guy). A great show with a great cast and a great front of house team – go and see it quick before it closes on March 21st!

[4/5]

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