ONCE upon a time (in 2007, actually) there was a low budget Irish film that charted the unusual relationship of two musicians, one Irish and one Czech.
It became an international hit, with its charm, its music mixing Irish standards, new songs and Eastern European Klezmer and its unpredictable story line.
Four years later it was adapted for the stage in an off-Broadway workshop session. America is a country obsessed with its Irish heritage, so it’s no wonder that the Guy decided to follow his ex-girlfriend to New York instead of London, the destination in the film . Once – the Musical went on to win eight Tonys for the Broadway production.
Now the New Wolsey Theatre and Queens Theatre Hornchurch version, with its book by Enda Walsh and music by Glen Hansard and Marketa Igrlova, is on tour and stopping at Bath Theatre Royal until 7th March.
There’s nothing conventional about this show. As the audience enters the auditorium the set, a typical Irish bar, fills up with customers who either take up or bring with them an instrument, and before long (as would be the case in that Irish bar) a jam session has started. The Fields of Athenry brings the 14 actor musicians together, and almost before you know it the lights have dimmed and two more people have come into the bar.
They are Guy and Girl, and gradually their story unfolds. It’s a slow burn, but never without the plangent longing that suffuses so much Irish music and storytelling.
It might be a spoiler to tell you what happens, but judging by the Monday Bath audience, everyone knows the story, the songs and the words by heart anyway, so great was the impact of the film.
This brilliantly devised and choreographed production stars the charming Emma Lucia and Daniel Healy as Girl and Guy. Every one of the rest of the cast is not only a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, but an actor capable of creating an indelibly memorable character in just a few words.
Once is a life-affirming story, full of energy and love, underlining how different people can find common ground in music.
If you can’t get to Bath before 7th March, Once is also at Southampton Mayflower from 18th to 23rd May and Plymouth Theatre Royal from 6th to 11th July.