Until Sat Nov 30
© Joan Marcus
Time Out rating:
Time Out says
Wed Apr 10 2013
It’s cuter than a punnet of kittens and smarter than a suitcase full of owls, so you would have to be some sort of cold-hearted bastard not to immediately fall in love with this multi-Tony-winning Broadway export. Sadly, I am that bastard, largely due to the fact I really didn’t get on with the milquetoast folk rock that makes up this intimate musical’s score.
The songs in ‘Once’ were written by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, stars of the 2006 lo-fi Irish indie flick from which this musical is adapted. In John Tiffany’s production they’re largely sung by Declan Bennett’s awkward busking Dubliner Guy, with winsome backing from his love interest, Zrinka Cviteši’s free-spirited Czech immigrant Girl.
Equal parts wistfulness and bombast, these ditties are believable enough as the sort of thing a damaged musician might knock out on his acoustic. But while they’re big on feelings, they lack hooks or memorable lyrics. Despite the ‘X Factor’-levels of emoting in Bennett’s performance, it’s all pretty trying if you’re the sort of person who dies a little inside every time Mumford & Sons come on the radio.
Yet to moan on about one facet of a musical – even if it is all the bloody music – is to be a bit of a sourpuss, especially when everything else about ‘Once’ is so delightful.
There is a genuine warmth and inclusiveness to this show that is a rarity in the razzle-dazzle-heavy West End. It’s there in the onstage bar the audience is invited to patronise beforehand, the cosy mirrors of Bob Crowley’s set, the delightfully odd-looking actors – who also double as the show’s musicians – and Steven Hoggett’s quirky choreography. And in a strong cast, Croatian actor Cviteši is a radiantly charismatic presence – I hope she does more work over here.
Best of all is top Irish playwright Enda Walsh’s script, which has great, puckish fun applying a bit of Brechtian silliness to the romcom formula (when a vacuum cleaner is required to advance the plot, somebody simply walks on and hands one to the Girl).
It also genially takes the piss out of the Irish, and generally makes a fairly standard troubled-boy-saved-by-kooky-girl story sparkle and glisten with winning wit and laugh-out-loud humour.
In fact, Walsh’s nimble script feels pointedly at odds with the songs’ earnest glumness, almost as if it were fighting against them. A sweet evening, but the songs all sound like Snow Patrol. And don’t we go to musicals precisely to escape Snow Patrol? Andrzej Lukowski
Phoenix Theatre 104-110 Charing Cross Rd
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