London is well known for its theatres and one new attraction to be found in the West End is the marvellous British production of Enda Walsh’s Once at the Phoenix Theatre. Running until the end of May 2014, John Tiffany’s new version of the hit Broadway show even won a Grammy this year for Best Musical Theatre Album. So if you’re looking for a weekend break with ‘toe-tapping’ entertainment, the heart of the capital is the place to go.
Following a Guy and a Girl in a Dublin bar as they fall in love over the course of a week (aided in no small part by the power of music), Once a New Musical has been updated to be “a bit edgier, a bit grittier, a bit more down to the roots” by Tiffany, realising that we on this side of the pond like our dramas a little less Hollywood-perfected. After all, in contrast to the Broadway run, the 2007 movie was a low-budget folksy affair. Indeed, although the original soundtrack has been kept, with the musical’s intimate bar setting audience members feel almost as if they’re fellow punters rather than spectators, the on-stage action unfurling with a touching reality. As The Times reviewed, “It’s funny, it’s truthful, it sings”.
Located on Charring Cross Road, the Phoenix Theatre opened in 1930, but only started showing musicals in the 1980s, and that was the acclaimed Willy Russell Blood Brothers. However, the magic seems to have stayed, as Once a New Musical is already delighting audiences, and its reputation spreading like wildfire by word of mouth, since its premiere earlier this year: Graham Norton was almost in tears by the end of it, Lesley Nicol was overwhelmed by the sheer talent, and Dara O’Briain finally saw the truth behind the ‘mythic rumours from New York’.
The lovers are played by Declan Bennett, as Irish busker Guy, and Zrinka Cvitešić as Girl. Given that the entire cast is required to play their instruments live on stage, it helps that both have a musical background – in addition to considerable acting credentials. Bennett is a singer songwriter in his own right (also keen on the theme of love and sexuality) and Cvitešić is an accomplished Jazz singer and dancer. It retains the integrity of what began as an intimate collaboration between Irishman Glen Hansard and Czech musician Markéta Irglová back in 2006, both of whom are ‘grateful’ that the tale ‘continue to be told’ and deem Tiffany’s interpretation ‘a beautiful job’ of what is very personal to them.
With matinee and evening performances available, and tickets starting at just £19.50, Once a New Musical is too special a production to miss. Although audience members are invited to a tipple from the on-stage bar pre-performance, accentuating the authenticity of what they are about to witness, you might very well be seeking a Guinness afterwards (Waxy O’Connors in Leicester Square is where you should head) – and a travel agency, to buy a ticket to Dublin. Sláinte!