Review: Once, Darlinghurst Theatre (NSW)

Enda Walsh’s musical is a classic boy-meets-girl romance with terrific singing and great chemistry.
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Photo: Robert Catto.

Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s production is the Sydney premiere of Once, though Melbourne had a production in 2014. Magnificently directed by Richard Carroll, it is a poignant, exuberant and heart-warming show performed with amazing energy by a cast.

With book by Enda Walsh, Once is based on John Carney’s 2007 movie and has won eight Tonys (!) as well as Grammy and Olivier Awards. It is a classic archetypal love story of boy meets girl – will it work out happily?

The two main characters are simply called The Guy and The Girl. The Guy is Irish, The Girl is a Czech immigrant. The pair meet when The Guy is busking, away from his day job fixing vacuum cleaners   – the show opens with his anguished song about a failed relationship. The Girl, who just by chance passes by, understands his pain and accosts him. She is also an aspiring muso and agrees to pay him in piano music if he fixes her vacuum cleaner.

There is much verbal sparring with some witty banter, and eventually she becomes his muse, and they meet each other’s loved ones. But as love blossoms, there are obstacles in the way: for one, The Girl is married to someone else.

Stefanie Caccamo is super as The Girl – feisty, intelligent, and stubborn. Caccamo gets the comic timing just right with the snappy dialogue, while at other times her performance is poignant and moving.

Toby Francis as The Guy is great – still smarting and emotionally raw, craggy, wounded, sensitive and rather gawky at times. The Girl changes his life with amazing possibilities. Both are terrific singers and they have great chemistry.

The rest of the ensemble, who all double as musicians, perform with great panache and exuberance  – especially Drew Livingston as the music-loving bank manager who is gobsmacked when The Guy performs a number for him, then produces his own guitar and joins the band, and Victoria Falconer who is both Musical Director and The Girl’s sultry, sassy friend Reza. Rupert Reid has great fun as the rather spontaneous and instinctive music store owner Billy who is very impressed with The Girl. The whole cast is splendid.

The set design by Hugh O’Connor evokes the atmosphere of an Irish pub, with a bar at one side, fabulous windows and a dartboard. Other locations are indicated with props or a piece of furniture. One of the cast roller skates, and instruments include not only violin, cello and guitar but also drums, kazoo and accordion. Peter Rubie’s lighting is atmospheric and superbly complements the performance.

There is much fun in one scene with the bank manager that references the Irish history of bards, music and other Irish culture – including in jokes about Riverdance for example – while the sizzling ‘Spanish’ section contrasts nicely with haunting a capella ballads.

Once is a compelling, heart-warming, and moving show, vibrantly performed by a multi-talented cast.

4 stars out of 5 ★★★★

Book by Enda Walsh
Music & Lyrics by Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová
Based on the motion picture written and directed by John Carney
26 June-23 July 2019
Eternity Playhouse, Darlinghurst Theatre NSW
Tickets $58-$76

Lynne Lancaster
About the Author
Lynne Lancaster is a Sydney based arts writer who has previously worked for Ticketek, Tickemaster and the Sydney Theatre Company. She has an MA in Theatre from UNSW, and when living in the UK completed the dance criticism course at Sadlers Wells, linked in with Chichester University.