On Saturday 21st March, I went to London’s Pheonix Theatre to see the penultimate performance of Once. It is a musical that I have wanted to see ever since it opened in 2013 and was obviously overjoyed when I finally got the chance.
Once is set in the Irish city of Dublin and centres around two unnamed characters which the audience come to know as simply ‘Guy’ and ‘Girl’. the Guy has recently been left by his girlfriend and decides to give up on his music because of this. After meeting the Girl, who convinces him not to give up and encourages him to go to New York to pursue his passion, his life begins to change for the better and ultimately leaves both characters with a huge decision to make.
From the moment you enter the auditorium, you are immediately drawn into the world of Once. The musical uses only one set throughout, which is an Irish pub and therefore, audience members were actually allowed to go onto the stage and buy real drinks from the bar which instantly made you feel more involved, even those of us who did not go up. Around fifteen minutes before the show began, the ensemble came on and played a few songs, just as you might experience in a traditional pub.
Irish singer and Boyzone member Ronan Keating played the role of the Guy and after being familiar with him as a singer, I was very curious to see him in an acting role, where he did by no means disappoint. The opening song Leave is performed by the Guy, directed at his ex-girlfriend who has left for New York. This is the moment when we meet the Guy and we instantly see him to be bitter and like he has lost all hope and meaning in his life. He then meets the Girl who is instantly impressed by his performance and makes it her job to help him become successful in the world of music, which then causes him to drop his aloof front and allows a close relationship to blossom between the two characters. The show is very cleverly written in the sense that it is difficult to determine whether he is singing the love songs to the Girl or to his ex-girlfriend, with whom it is clear he is still very much in love with. The final number of act one – Gold – is probably the most difficult to determine its target. For me personally, it was the stand-out song of the show. Like all of the songs, it was performed by Keating with enormous emotion, however, it also had this vulnerability and sensitivity to it. All in all, it is very safe to say that Ronan Keating was the perfect actor, singer and all-round performer for the part he played.
From the moment she came on stage, Jill Winternitz had the whole audience in stitches in her role as the Girl. She came across as a witty and sharp young woman who is unafraid to speak her mind. Her blunt sarcasm remained very much present throughout the show, a line that springs to mind at this point being “I know you can speak because I just heard you sing…if you like you can sing me your answer”, but in the second act, did considerably settle down as the story became more serious and poignant. As their feelings for each other grew stronger, Winternitz’s portrayal of the Girl took a turn from this carefree character to shy and almost clumsy as she tries to reveal her feelings for the Guy. I have not previously been familiar with Jill Winternitz, however I do believe she will have a long-lasting career in musical theatre and look forward to seeing more of her work.
Two actors who also deserve more credit are Tim Prottey-Jones and Rebecca Connolly, who played the roles of Billy and Ivanka respectively.
Billy, played by Tim Prottey-Jones, is a hopeless, quirky character who brings comedy to the show. It is clear that he is attracted to the Girl when he tries to ‘fight’ the Guy for her at the beginning of the show, demonstrating his ‘threatening’ karate moves. He quickly ascends into becoming what would almost be described as a loveable rogue-type character who is really quite a softie.
At the age of six, Rebecca Connolly makes her West End debut in the musical Once. She plays the role of Ivanka, the Girl’s daughter from a failed relationship. I was very impressed with Connolly’s faultless performance, she knew exactly where she was meant to be and when and got every dance move perfectly in time, showing bags of confidence the entire time. In the few scenes she was in, I think I can speak for the majority of the audience when I say she left a huge impression. This young actress shows great potential and I would be very surprised if she is not cast as a Matilda in a few years’ time.
To round it all up, Once is an utterly spellbinding and touching musical that will be a great loss to the West End. The very different music style is part of what makes the musical unique and unmissable as well as the use of the ensemble also as the band. It really contributed to the whole atmosphere and very much helped the audience feel like they were sitting in that bar as a part of the show. When this show eventually goes on tour, and I have no doubt that it will, you will not regret going to this beautiful masterpiece.