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Once: Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch

October 17, 2018

 (Seen at the afternoon performance on 11th October 2018).

Czech Girl (Emma Lucia) sees angry Irish Guy (Daniel Healy) busking in the street. Each carries gaping open wounds where recent love has gone wrong. Each also carries the spirit of music within themselves, and it is this which draws them together. How dreams are realised and lives begin to move on is the theme of the show, and the story is lyrical yet literal, with a searing emotional honesty.

Director Peter Rowe has taken the original West End and Broadway version to new heights, with a more cinematic approach than previously. Scenes move more quickly, musical interludes working as “establishing shots” to ease each transition.

Gone are the formal rows of chairs at the sides of the stage. The evocative (Libby Watson) multi-purpose set has characters relaxed around pub tables or between musical equipment. Beds, workshops, offices and the entire Dublin cityscape are rolled out as required, with a lovely ‘cliff and sky’ moment too.

This allows the entire cast a more fluid realism in performance, giving them the opportunity to discover hitherto hidden dimensions within both their characters and even the plot.

Strongest is the dynamic between Guy and Girl. This time, the lacerations of their hearts are at the forefront of their minds. Guy is simply angry, Girl lost and keeping steady because it is Czech tradition.

Emma Lucia reveals everything with an “If You Want Me” of yearning sensuality, the best rendition I’ve ever heard and given extra life with a terrific trio routine as it develops.

Daniel Healy’s defining moment is literally “Gold” (though his mirror-posing “Broken Hearted Hoover Sucker Guy” is hilarious – Elvis may never be the same again).

The show is very much an ensemble piece, though, and each member of the ensemble is an extraordinarily special actor / musician.

Kate Robson-Stuart eschews the original stereotype, making Reza fully a strong woman in a foreign land. Already a free spirit used to manipulating all for her own purposes, but now using it as a defensive weapon as well, with high intelligence and a rather stunning shoulder tattoo.

Also in the Czech tribe, Susannah van den Berg plays a mean accordion and stands a strong matriarchal figure. A little note for  Lily-Anne Wilkin (Ivonka) who clearly enjoyed the wonderfully tribal “Ej, Pada, Pada, Rosicka” as much as anyone.

Speaking of, James William-Pattison (Andrej) and Lloyd Gorman (Svec) are wished much luck in the “lucky suit” and deserve success with both careers and curing their Soap Opera / coffee addictions.

For the native community, Peter Peverley (Da) has a wisdom (and lovely sly wit) Guy will hopefully inherit. Samuel Martin (Bank Manager) deals skilfully with both rendering “Abandoned In Bandon” and a critique, delivered with an impeccable timing that should make Simon Cowell consider retiring.

Later, Caolan McCarthy (Eamon) does a lovely job evolving his mental attitude during a 24 hour recording session. Sean Kingsley (Billy) gets a longer time-frame but does likewise and seizes the opportunity to be truly memorable even in brief appearances.

The same is true for Rachel Dawson (Ex-Girlfriend). A cliché is that a good actor is noticed for a tiny role. This really is that cliché. Her perfect, truly perfect, phone call scene must be a calling-card. The reaction is beautifully played also by Guy and Girl.

In true Irish fashion, perhaps the only “but” is that the “pre-show” seems a little too formal, with the tuning-up a little less convincing than the West End’s original freer “jam session.” The show doesn’t quite begin with the same unexpected evolution – a simple lighting cue on a line, almost – which would be lovely to have back. Such a minor quibble as to be meaningless in this glorious revival.

At the time of writing, the Ambassadors Theatre in the West End is unexpectedly free. If Reza and Billy were to go and seduce / threaten the owner, while Guy and Girl tap Bank Manager for the extra cash…

If only. I made a 4 hour round-trip to get to this, and it was worth every second. There’s still a few performances left, if you can, just go. This production’s new sunlight is purest Gold.


5 stars, standing ovation and full-fledged sobbing.


  1. Fyre Cracker permalink
    October 17, 2018 12:57 pm

    Literally up the road to where I live – could’ve saved you the 4 hour round trip?? Fab production though, isn’t it?


    Sent from my iPhone

    • Steve Rich permalink*
      October 18, 2018 8:06 am

      LOL, lucky you. And yes, it would! Lucky in a way I wasn’t that close – or I’d probably not have left the theatre for 2 weeks… yes, it is amazing, it’s true.

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