(That last picture is just to show you my hilarious post-show face)
This is a very self-indulgent review! Before I get started I want to mention the wonderful people at Seatwave and their new app Timbre which you should check out – more on that later…
A couple of weeks ago I went with James to see Once: The Musical. I saw the original film back in 2006 and on first hearing of the stage adaptation I thought I could imagine a student production playing in a basement in Edinburgh during Fringe, but was perplexed at the prospect of a dazzling Broadway show. It’s not a film that obviously lends itself to a stage adaptation; long shots, sparse conversation, improvised dialogue and slow-burning, subtle documentation have rarely been hallmarks of theatre. The film has no obvious dramatic rises and falls, little character development aside of the two leads and not even a particular drawn out narrative arc.
A lot of characters have been expanded from one-scene cameos into fullblown comedic sidekicks. I appreciate that the story needed to grow to fill a 3 hour show, and whilst I liked the characters of Billy and Andrei I didn’t appreciate the mother, the banker or the overall genre shift. The two leads differed greatly from the film; the Girl had become a lot more fiesty and perky than in the film. I found Marketa Irglova a little naive and simple in the film but weirdly whilst watching the musical it actually changed my memories; I found myself wishing for her naturalistic and wistful performance rather than the poorly-accented and overly comic one I had on the stage (we had understudy Sophie Reid at our performance).
Glen Hansard is dark, brooding and suitably everyman in the film and whilst the Guy (Daniel Hunter) had managed to retain the dark, broody aspects it was without any sense of the earnest, boyish “can’t believe my luck” that Glen has in the film and ended up coming across as grumpy. I wouldn’t describe Glen in the film as particularly charismatic but I think that’s what the character needs on stage; both James and I would like to see Ronan Keating in the role when he takes over as I think his natural charisma will combat the broodiness of the character. However a lot of the accents were all over the place which is a shame; London is one of the most diverse and multicultural cities in the world so where are the legitimately Irish and Czech actors?
The beginning pre-set featured the cast performing as part of an open-mic night; another feature straight out of Edinburgh. The set changes were incredible and I particularly liked the choreography in the flat scene. Musically the show had some impressive moments; the recording scene was a triumph. I’m not a massive fan of the original score and with the exception of “Leave” and “Gold” I don’t think there’s anything that particularly stands out to me and even then I think just love ‘Leave’ because of the vocal lines – Glen’s vocals are incredible and it’s such a heartbreaking song when he performs it. The magic of people joining in mid-song has been proved time and again and it was a nice theme in most of the songs featured.
Ultimately I enjoyed a lot of things about the show without really taking to the show itself. What I really loved is what the show represents for music in a West End theatre. I’ve got a long and varied history of playing music in theatre shows. I first met James during a show we performed about 3 years ago in Edinburgh. Whilst the cast was divided into musicians and actors, we all appeared on stage swapping instruments and performing original folk-pop music during the show (I racked up 8 instruments during the 1 hour show, a record). Whilst back then this was still relatively unique, I feel like now conventions such as: an actor beginning a song and a troupe of musicians joining in, a whole stage singing in 5 or 6 part harmony, melody being recycled during set changes or are now all very common place musical conventions and you could wander into any afternoon show in Edinburgh with “live music” and see a variation on a theme.
What was exciting for me about Once is that these conventions have made it out of the rehearsal room and onto the West End. Actor-musician shows are nothing new (notable examples being 2008 Company and 2009 Sunset Boulevard) but these sort of integrated gig-style shows are. I kept turning around to James during the show and saying “we could do this” – it’s exciting to think the kind of weird, niche thing you’ve spent years doing is reaching a mainstream audience and people are getting to experience music in a new way. The cast should be applauded for acting, singing, dancing and playing throughout. Great production, and as a stand-alone show it’s fine but I still question whether a film like Once can ever translate properly to a stage (and really if it needed to). Have any of you seen Once? I would love to know what you thought!
Thank you so much Seatwave for sending me. Please go and check out Seatwave and their range of concerts – at the moment they’re offering money off for signing up to the newsletter which is pretty rad (also Seatwave have recently launched a new app called Timbre to keep on top of live music which I’ve been using this whole week – speaking as a live music fan, it’s great so gig fans, get on it.) Seatwave are also currently selling The Vamps tickets so get them whilst you’re hot if you’re still mourning McFly like I am (sob)…