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John Carney’s little indie film that could returns home as an unusual musical by playwright Enda Walsh and originating director John Tiffany helming.
Tiffany is responsible for the highly disconcerting set-up in which the audience can clamber onstage and buy a drink while the ensemble plays a number of Irish and Czech folksongs, so that the actual busking opening of the play emerges seamlessly out of a session. As our hero (Tony Parsons) finishes busking, he is accosted by a go-getting Czech musician (Megan Riordan) who insists he must a) not give up on music, and b) fix her vacuum cleaner. For he and Da (Billy Murphy) live above their hoover-repair shop in the North Strand, a life straitened by death and desertion. Her life is fuller. She lives with her mother Baruska (Sandra Callaghan), and three Czech flatmates; death metal drummer Svec (Rickie O’Neill), ambitious ‘burger-boy’ Andrej (Dylan Reid), and skimpily-clad man-eater Reza (Ruth Westley). With this injection of energy a burnt-out busker may stand a chance of recording a successful demo…
There are moments, such as the early arrival of the vacuum cleaner, that are pure Enda Walsh fourth-wall breaching physical comedy. There is superb bickering between arch-Dubliner music-shop owner Billy (Phelim Drew) and the Cork banker (Jamie Cameron) who approves the loan for recording a demo and then plays cello on it, while long-suffering sound engineer Eamon (Bob Kelly) is driven, like the rest of the band, to the edge of reason by Svec’s approach to drumming via Animal from the Muppets. But comedy leads to unexpected depth in the conceit of Czech subtitles flashing up onscreen while the characters speak English; reversed for a touching moment when, escaping from the city and Bob Crowley’s impressively realised and detailed bar set in a piece of theatrical magic, the two central characters attempt to confront their hidden feelings for each other.
Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova’s songs are the motor of the show. ‘Falling Slowly’ is used early, played at a comically fast tempo, then with one phrase insistently repeated by her to annoy him into joining in on guitar, but when they play together the song becomes spine-chillingly affecting; and then the 10 piece ensemble (including Michael Mahony and Lisa Fox) comes in – its combination of cello, violins, accordion and guitars producing a varied aural tapestry akin to Arcade Fire. Martin Lowe’s orchestrations and Steven Hoggett’s movements replace traditional dance numbers (bar a rousing introductory Czech stomp for the flatmates led by the striking figure of Ruth Westley) with growing emotional involvement. The curtain on the open-mic night sees the very funny and foul-mouthed hecklers stand up and strum along to physically represent how the music wins over the crowd.
Once is unusual in asking its actors to sing, dance, and play their own musical accompaniment, but, led by an impassioned Parsons and an irrepressible Riordan, the ensemble pick up the gauntlet with gusto.
Once continues its run at the Olympia until August 22nd