A delightfully bittersweet affair filled with wisecracking Czechs and surly Irishmen, this ‘new’ musical hit the West End quietly — sneaking through the back door — and stealing the audience’s hearts.

once
The stage of Once, open to the public before and during the interval

Can love blossom in five days? According to Hollywood, it only takes one chance encounter, some kind of existential disaster and a soundtrack with well-placed gusts of wind to make the magic happen. In real life however, dropping the big three words in a few days will send any rational person screaming for the hills.

That’s why Once works. It’s boy meets girl, it’s love at second glance, an impossible romance. It doesn’t promise that there will be a happy ever after,  just encourages the audience to enjoy the ride.

The music started before the show does, with actors on stage showing off their singing skills in the minutes before the show and providing an extra treat for the early birds.

Arthur Darvill, starring as the hoover-repairing, tormented street musician ‘Guy’ was charming in his second to last performance as the character on Friday night. Zrinka Cvitešić held her own, shining  as the deadly serious, expressive and hilariously honest ‘Girl’.

The premise is simple — a boy loves a girl who leaves to live in New York (not London like in the film). He is heartbroken and giving up on his dream of becoming a musician, when he meets a peculiar and musically gifted kindred spirit that is determined to set him on the track to success. All this with goosebump-inducing tunes and dance numbers.

Their story came to life through a grotty pub, the Dublin streets, the starlit heights above the city and an empty music shop.  It was a romance that involved many hands-in-pockets– Darvill looked like he was digging for gold at key points in the staring, shuffling and shrugging contest with Cvitešić, which was painfully reminiscent of terrifyingly awkward teenage love.

Despite struggling to come to terms with the uncomfortable and tiny seats, the jolty humour and odd silences kept the audience captivated. The Girl’s mother, played by an exuberant Fiona Bruce and flatmates (Matthew Ganley and his faux-Irish accent especially) came as great comic relief for a play that could easily have taken itself too seriously, perfectly executing dancing and singing numbers that brought a taste of the continent to Ireland.

This theatrical adaptation of John Carney’s movie script did it justice in a tender, sweet and slow-paced production that doesn’t use any pomp or props beyond what is needed to inspire the audience’s imagination. Believe me, you won’t just want to go once.

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