REVIEWS: Once – Phoenix Theatre, London

New musical Once is a heart-rending and affecting celebration of love, friendship and music. When an Irish Hoover repair man by day and busker by night and a young Czech mother meet through a shared love of music, their songwriting takes them both on a journey they never expected.

This was never going to be a typical West End or Broadway musical as anyone who has seen or heard of the the original 2006 film would know. Instead this is a tender, small-scale story told over a period of five days of a love unrequited between an unnamed guy and girl.

The success of such a simple show lies completely in the hands of its cast, and the two leads Declan Bennet and Zrinka Cvitesic (above), are a revelation. I defy anyone not to leave the theatre a little in love with either one or both of them. Both are in possession of beautifully emotive voices and a charisma and magnetism that is hard not to warm to. They are ably supported by a fine cast of fellow actor-musicians.

The only downside is the somewhat stereotypical depiction of the girl’s fellow Czech immigrants and their foreign whacky-ness but that said it was easy to forgive in the context of the story and provided some of the lighter comedy moments. One other slightly jarring note was the movement design by Steven Hoggett, it appears to have been included only to differentiate the piece from being a play with music and an all-out musical, however, it served no real purpose in either driving the story or adding to the emotional temperature of the performance.

This is an engaging tale: relevant, believable and relate-able and beautifully told by a top class cast. It leaves you with feelings of warmth, sadness and inevitably What If’s? It isn’t faultless but it’s as close as you would want anything to be. I defy you not to be moved.

The Phoenix Theatre, London

 Booking until 30th November 2013

 Tickets and information at http://www.oncemusical.co.uk/

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