• Theatre
  • West End
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© Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Ronan Keating (Guy) and Jill Winternitz (Girl)

© Brinkhoff/Moegenburg
© Frank Ockenfels
© Frank Ockenfels
© Frank Ockenfels
© Brinkhoff/Moegenburg
ONCE - The Musical Phoenix Theatre London
© Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Ronan Keating takes over the lead of the charming musical as it enters its final months.

It’s easy to sneer at star casting: the parachuting in of big-name performers from film or music, often with little stage experience, into long-running West End shows in a bid to get bums on seats.

And the appearance of former Boyzone star Ronan Keating in ‘Once’ – the show adapted from John Carney’s surprise hit film about an ordinary Dublin boy who meets an ordinary Czech girl and makes sweet music with her – will certainly guarantee a fair few bums.

However, ‘Once’ is no ordinary long-runner. With a book by Enda Walsh and direction by John Tiffany, it has redefined the possibility of turning a large-scale musical into an intimate event.

And Keating, it turns out, is definitely not to be sneered at. It might be a tad difficult in the early scenes to shift the image of the clean-cut, million-selling boyband star, and replace him with that of the Guy, a broken-hearted vacuum-repair man – a fact not helped, on opening night, by a tentative (and no doubt nervous) early performance from Keating. But overall, he inhabits the role with sensitivity and conviction; and after all, it is our job, as the audience, to forget the performer, and engage with the character (‘it’s acting, dear boy,’ as Olivier may have said).

Keating’s main strength is his musicianship: he does a superb job with Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová’s gorgeous songs, as, for the most part, does Jill Winternitz as the Girl. The ensemble, too, is top-notch, especially Mark Carlisle as Da – his opening folk song is spine-tingling – and Jez Unwin as a repressed, music-loving bank manager. Maybe you’ve already seen ‘Once’, but it’s worth going again to witness unlikely sight of a manufactured pop star breathing new life into a show about the grassroots power of music.

Average User Rating

3.7 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:10
  • 4 star:3
  • 3 star:5
  • 2 star:4
  • 1 star:1
1 person listening
Alex B
Staff Writer

It took a while to get into the fact that this isn't a very big production. The set is pretty simple and there aren't any big effects that have become synonymous with west end musicals. However, the story and songs are good but not terribly memorable. The audience are encouraged to go on stage before the show starts to buy their drinks from the set pub which was quite fun but I can't say I'd highly recommend going to see Once when there are so many other amazing things on to see instead.

Charly Lester
Staff Writer

I think Once is one of those shows which depends on how you're feeling.  The overall plot can be seen as quite depressing and sad, if you're particularly down!  But the music is beautiful and the ensemble are very talented.  One to see 'Once' (boom boom!) but not a show I would go and watch time and again.  There are a couple of rather catchy songs, which you'll want to download as soon as you leave!

Johanne D

I fall in love with the movie and the songs and when I saw the offer on the Time Out website i was really excited. And even if I was never a boyzone fan, I knew that Ronan Keating has a beautiful voice. 

The show itself is good, I like the fact that they made it more funny than the movie that was really serious. The lyrics are really good and the crew is playing well. Ronan Keating has definitively a great voice but will never be a great actor. he's a bit gauche and overplay a lot. The rest of the crew is good.

Overall we spent a nice evening and I recommend this show to anyone who likes Irish music, Irish accent, Once (the movie), musicals or Ronan Keating!


Arrived at the theatre and took my seat early.  Stage was set out as a huge pub.  Members of the cast were there playing fast, lively music to audience members also on the stage and I thought, this is going to be a great night.  Unfortunately, I was completely wrong.  Once the audience took their seats, the lights went down and the happy atmosphere followed them.  

Now, I can't say 100% why I didn't like this production.  The cast were very talented, the musicians were, on the whole pretty good (though I thought the piano might need re-tuning at certain points) but to me this wasn't a musical in the traditional sense.

It felt as if someone had found a CD of the dullest and most despondent  Irish songs and decided to write an extremely thin story around them,  Nobody goes to a play expecting it to make sense or be logical all the way through, but the scene with the bank manager was so forced and untenable that I was left feeling cheated by it.

Positive points, well there were a few.  The stage set is amazing but here again the play lets itself down.  the majority of the set is a Dublin pub but there is only one scene actually in the pub (though it does get used in the interval to sell real drinks to those members of the audience that want to use it). The lighting rig was tremendous and very flexible, which was useful as there were no follow spots. 

And thats it really.  Would I see it again?  Nope, not a chance (though I would like to see the movie which is apparently completely different) Am I in a minority in my opinion of this play?  Well, possibly.  All reviews are subjective by nature and this was the first musical that really didn't work for me.  


That was the first time that I ever seen the musical -- I had never heard of it before -- and it immediatly became my favourite musical ever!! I am so enthusiastic about it, I could talk about it for days. Unmissable. Unforgettable. Arthur Darvill left me speechless, and the Girl was lovely and incredibly moving. The whole cast was just perfect. Love love love love love it. Just go and see it yourself, you won't regret it.

Mei M

I loved Once!! It left such a huge impact on me. While I was listening to the music, I felt my heart drop to the floor. It was an experience I will never forget. The music was beautiful and the performances were excellent! David Hunter was outstanding!!! I highly recommend this to all theater-goers who love genuine and heartfelt music. I loved the musicality of each artist - they play instruments excellently! I love how the music was interwoven with the story. Once is really a beautiful piece.

Daniele F

A very entertaining show, the actors sing greately. The theatre is perfect for this show, good acustic and I was fascinated with the central stage converting into a bar during the break. Highly raccomened!

Christopher Browne

Once is everything a show needs to be, not more, not less. Away from the paraphernalia of your regular West End musical, Once offers simplicity and honesty; it almost falls out of the category of musical, since its songs are not so much part of the plot as the characters actually performing. The cast really makes you think about the amount of talent there is in this world, they're absolutely flawless. If you are in London, please make yourself a favor and go see this work of art. And a tip, get to the theater early, you'll enjoy it a lot more.


We went with visitors from the US on the basis of reviews we had seen. Arriving about 15 minutes before "curtain up", we were surprised and delighted to find the cast already on stage singing and playing an eclectic mix of Irish and Czech music - and with lots of members of the audience on the stage with them enjoying the fun. The music made the evening - played and sung with great talent enthusiasm. The story line, in contrast, is thin and shy on details of why all those Czechs are in Dublin etc. etc., so don't go if you are looking for a profound plot. Go to enjoy music from the heart - these people are really enjoying what they are doing. The three-generation team, playing the Czech mother, daughter and granddaughter, played their roles with great style and dry humour (I'm Czech - I'm always serious...).


I saw the film Once a few years ago by accident and instantly fell in love with it. When I heard that it had been put in theatres I felt both excited and a little nervous because I was unsure if it could really capture the same feelings that I had when seeing the film. The play was absolutely amazing. The setting was perfect for the feel that the story wants to give its audience. It's quaint and cosy. The theatre itself is so small that it makes you feel as though you are right there on stage with the players, and listening too all of my favourite songs played live right in front of me only gave it that much more elegance. The actors were genuinely skilled at making you feel the raw emotions that usually only a film could capture since its such a longer time frame and much more settings, props, close up on facial expressions, etc. It was clear to see that even the musicians themselves were so into the emotions that they were feeling when playing their music, which made it all the better for us as an audience to feel it along with them. (A few guitar strings popped here and there because they were being strummed so forcefully) I brought my friend with me who was unfamiliar with the story and once intermission came she was already hooked. Definitely a one of a kind type of story that will leave you feeling really great when you exit the theatre.

Komal Mistry

I was reccommended this play by 2 people, I'd briefly skim read the blurb and reviews and thought I'd give it a go with one of my girlfriends. Ran into the theatre with about 5 minutes to go and the cast were singing and playing music which was absolutely delightful, although difficult to hear what they were singing. We had seats in the Upper circle which were perfectly fine (for the price). The actual play itself was good, although I have not seen film to compare it to (I have heard since that this is better). There was a mix type of songs (slow and fast), great story line, fantastic acting by the lead female, very beliveable, to the extent that she reminded me of myself! During the break, the audience were invited to stage for drinks at the bar which I thought was clever. I'd reccommend this play to people who enjoy a good musical, albeit sad love story and a bit of comedy.


Before show started all the musicians were on the stage playing Irish music, thought that this was going to be a good show, how wrong was I, I thought it was supposed to be a musical. I like something with a bit of life in it. It needed a good kick up the backside, I fell asleep during the first half, 4 people around me did not return after the 1st half. Hoped 2nd half would hot up, it never did. The lead man had a lovely voice and the songs were good, but oh so boring. I like to be entertained, but am afraid I was not. Went home very disappointed and had felt I had wasted my birthday money.


I thought it was a joke... Not that I don't like minimalistic staging when it's appropriate but here I think this show wasn't meant to be staged in the West End. When you pay £50+ for a show (even if I paid less thanks to a 50% discount), you're expecting to be wowed, to live a truly special experience, not something that might be compared to a slightly improved workshop. I really didn't like it... and I've seen more than 100 shows in my life so I'm able to compare ;-)


Really loved this gentle story with beautiful music, superb performances and great atmosphere. The end had me in tears. The whole theatre gave them a standing ovation which was very well deserved.


Loved it - from start to finish. Music, storyline, staging and cast. Only way to top this is to see it in a real Irish pub, with Guinness on tap throughout.


Superb show! Better than the excellent film in many ways. Beautiful set, wonderfully lit, with an astonishingly natural sound for a musical. The cast are talented and the script witty - a must see.


Fantastic show; highly talented cast of actor/musicians, playing a wonderful variety of instruments. Having not seen the film, I can't compare it; but the story was captivating. Headphone dance was a little weird, and could have been performed solo. Also, as per ted's comment, a numb bum did make me question the length of each act, particularly the outdoors scene. Lead actress was overcome with emotion at the end; the standing ovation was deserved. Overall though, an amazing evening. Tip: arrive early!


Great cast and wonderful music, though I didn't find it as charming as the film.


The music to this show is superb, I could listen to it over and over again. I just wish they would pick up the pace a bit as t feels like a long evening.


Basic, honest and undeniably beautiful Once is a musical that will draw a tear and warm the heart.