Every few years, there’s a movie that comes out that gets barely any press, is only in select theatres, and isn’t on for very long. But it ends up being one of the best films made in years. In 2007, that film was Once. I saw it at the cinemas with my husband after reading about it online and we loved it. It’s a beautifully quiet love story centred around the music created by a guy and girl in Dublin (and they quite literally are called “guy” and “girl” – the characters don’t have names). So, when I heard the film had been turned into a musical I was excited. When I heard it was coming to Melbourne I was doubly excited. THEN when I was given two free tickets by Nuffnang Australia to the opening night on Saturday I just about lost my damn mind.
The play is on at the Princess Theatre on Spring Street in Melbourne, and it’s a gorgeous venue. Because Saturday was opening night, patrons were invited to have a drink on stage before the show at the rustic bar set while the cast played a raucous musical set amongst the crowd, and it opened the evening with a tremendous bang.
The plot centres around the guy, a Dubliner, who’s busking on a city street and is ready to chuck it all in because what’s the point? No one is interested, and he may as well just stick to living with his dad above their vacuum repair shop. Things change, though, when he meets the girl, a Czech immigrant who is a classically trained pianist with a young daughter. The girl’s blithe honesty catches him off guard, as she encourages him to keep making stunningly beautiful music. As she badgers him about his music, and he fixes her broken Hoover, they begin to fall in love, quickly, but quietly. They pull together some cash to make a demo record in a studio and over a few days their feelings are barely hidden behind the achingly beautiful ballads and raw lyrics that seem to split them both wide open with intensity.
The theatre the perfect size for a show like this, where the story is intimate and gentle. The venue is cosy enough to make the audience feel like they’re standing right there on stage with the actors, feeling the emotional depth of every ballad and hanging on every look of longing between the guy and the girl. The stage was free from props, with the exception of a few tables and chairs, and the cast’s musical instruments. The use of space on stage was just genius – the entire cast is always present on stage, and they control the space with the few props they reposition over and over again to create different, intimately lit scenes.
The pacing of the plot was swift and soulful, and the leads, played by Brit Tom Parsons and Australian Madeleine Jones, are brilliant. Parsons’ portrayal of the guy is prickly and grungy, but his heart is full of passion he pours into his music. Jones is comedic and biting, more so that her movie counterpart, but her energy and hopefulness is contagious. A cast of supporting characters help lighten the emotional tone when it’s needed in the form of Billy the music shop owner, the girl’s crazy Czech roommates and her larger than life mother. Recognition must be paid to the third, uncredited, lead: the music. The cast all play their instruments live on stage during the show, and full marks must be paid to them for interpreting and performing Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová’s incredible songs with the emotion and intensity first seen in the film in 2007. It’s impossible to watch this play and not be completely emotionally wrung out and simultaneously impressed by the the music. Having actors play instruments live on stage instead of singing to an orchestra is one of the best things about the show – it added an element of energy and builds on the chemistry between the lead actors.
Once is fantastic musical, and even if you haven’t seen the film, you’ll definitely enjoy the play. Everything about it was beautifully done, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see it on opening night. Many thanks to Nuffnang for the tickets.
But let’s face it, I’m such a fan of the film I would have happily shelled out the cash to go and see it – it’s well worth the night out. You’ll fall in love with the characters as well as the music as soon as the lights go down.
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