ReviewTheatre

Once

Venue: Eternity Playhouse, Darlinghurst
Written By: Enda Walsh (Book)
Directed By: Richard Carroll

Enthusiastically received by a delighted audience, the charming Once (music and lyrics by Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova) is deceivingly simple but deeply touching. Even the most diehard opponent of the musical genre would surely be won over by its enchanting mixture of liveliness, tenderness and melancholy and by the musical skill of its cast and their many instruments.

Stefanie Caccamo and Toby Francis. Photo: Robert Catto

When a young Irish busker (Toby Francis) emerges from a busy Dublin street scene to express anger at his girlfriend’s desertion, ready to renounce singing forever, and a quirky young woman (Stefanie Caccomo) approaches him with understanding and encouragement we think we know the outcome.

The Girl, as she is called, does indeed save him. She takes Guy to Billy Walton’s (Rupert Reid) struggling music store, where they bond in a piano and guitar rendition of Guy’s composition the lovely “Falling Slowly”, which won an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2008.

Their new friendship survives a peremptory and comic attempt at seduction by Guy, and the ebullience of the Girl’s Czech émigré family. The Czech culture, also musical, and storytelling – as the Girl’s mother Barushka (Joanna Weinberg) demonstrates in her comically dramatic tale of the “fearful little man” – has much to offer the less resolute Dubliner.

Guy finds himself in a bank manager’s office before he can blink, so yes, this is a success story. Incredibly, music provides a connection and after a truly hilarious performance of “Abandoned in Bandon” by the manager (Drew Livingston), Guy receives a loan and the manager a place in the newly emerging backing band.

And yes, the Girl and the Guy do fall in love, haltingly and covertly, admitting it only in song, the poignant “The Hill” and “Gold” respectively. While the band bicker, Guy and Girl seek refuge on a hill overlooking the sea, and in a beautifully pitched scene their unexpressed love is almost tangible. However, we do not get the outcome that we expected, but a rather Chekhovian emotional satisfaction nevertheless.

Remarkably economical, the cast also doubles as both orchestra and chorus (Victoria Falconer, musical director), often moving in complicated but smoothly executed choreographed arrangements (Amy Campbell, movement director), which manage to seem joyously casual. The set is minimal and in keeping with the straitened socio-economic world of the characters, and consequently readily adaptable to the quick movement from shop, to bar, to kitchen, to bedroom, to hillside.

There are many highlights in this well-considered production, among them an a cappella version of “Gold”, Caccomo’s tender and vulnerable “The Hill” and the closing reprise of “Falling Slowly” (Caccomo, Francis and ensemble). While unassuming and gentle, Once strikes a deep chord in its emphasis upon the unity achieved through joy in music and the sadness of lost possibility.

Until July 21, 2019
theatre@ssh.com.au

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