REVIEW | Once | A dynamic, whimsical musical meditation on love and passion

Review | Laura Money

I don’t know you, but I want you all the more for that

So begins the signature song from Once – a stunning duet called ‘Falling Slowly’ that features poignantly throughout, perfectly placed for maximum effect. It is the feature piece of a strong musical score, written by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova with book by Enda Walsh. This multi-Tony Award winning show is beautifully realised by Black Swan State Theatre Company in collaboration with Darlinghurst Theatre Company and is a whirlwind of music and passion that shines from a vibrant cast. Once is deftly directed by Richard Carroll – the whole stage bursts with the dynamic energy of Carroll’s direction and musical direction by Victoria Falconer who leads from the stage. It’s full of energy and vibrancy as movement director Amy Campbell captures the lively energy of the Celtic score and literally brings each note to life – fizzing and bursting in the air.

On the surface, Once is a love story with a stunning score but its deep connection to music with a fully collaborative ensemble, the relatively short time we spend with the characters reveals it to be about passions lifting and weaving patterns along with the music that doesn’t merely serve as accompaniment but is embedded throughout every element of the show. Bursting onto the stage and leaping on tables, rollerskating, and dancing exuberantly the entire cast play instruments and their movement is like watching a musical score’s notes leap from the page to create a dynamism that makes it difficult to know where to look. The set is the only part of the show that is static, designed by Hugh O’Connor it consists of a pub, music store, dingy bedroom, crowded share house, bank office, recording studio, and vacuum repair shop among other things! O’Connor creates the perfect base of wood panels and furniture that are moved about as needed – not just shuffled by a stage hand but thrown and slid and passed in time to the music by the talented cast who make every scene-change an exciting guessing game of how innovatively the objects can be used.

Guy (Toby Francis), Dublin born and bred is suffering in the throes of heartache. He sings a tortured number at a small pub and then rejects his guitar wholesale before being confronted by Girl (Stefanie Caccomo) – a bold and forthright woman who bluntly saves him by focusing on the music that is so integral to both their beings. Francis plays the confused figure perfectly – he begins stand-offishly and confused by the attention he’s suddenly receiving but it is obvious that his passion for music is part of his soul. Encouraged by a blunt Caccomo, he softens throughout the show and a thread of purity shines through whenever he sings. Caccomo’s character is unique and she plays her well. The fiery passion she has for helping others hints at a vulnerability when internalising, something Caccomo does with her incredible facial expressions. The entire cast is phenomenal, it’s an ensemble that fit perfectly with one another and their love and chemistry glows through the entire show.

If anything, music is the final character in Once, it’s ever present and adds nuance to every single scene. From the Czech folktunes that serve as a greeting to Guy as he enters the world of vibrant dancing and table-top stamping, to a literal guitar army adding their strings to bolster Guy as he applies for a bank loan, to the exciting studio session full of nerves and raw energy, and the beautifully reflective a capella reprise of ‘Gold’ by the men of the show every single music choice is perfectly performed and stunningly realised in this beautiful production. Special mention must be made of Gus Noakes who hilariously sings ‘Abandoned in Bandon’ – his bank manager persona’s foray into singer-songwriting. It’s terrible, and that’s a huge compliment, as you have to be a really accomplished singer to perform deliberately badly. Once is about passion and love, and missed opportunities, and so much goes unsaid. ‘Falling Slowly’ is a gorgeous song – with Francis’ strong, unwavering voice combined with Caccomo’s powerful and resolutely passionate sound the two form a memorable and heartbreaking duet that is impactful enough at the beginning but is truly devastating when reprised.

Black Swan State Theatre Company have a great reputation for musicals, but Once elevates the company to new heights as it is such a beautiful celebration of music and love it’s going to be hard to top. This is a five-star, 100%, phenomenal musical that will stay with you forever, and maybe even encourage you to jump up on the tabletops and let its music course through your veins!

Once played at the Regal Theatre in Subiaco from 28th May – 12th June and we already can’t wait for the revival! For more information about the production click HERE.

The Fourth Wall acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land we engage in storytelling on – the Wadjhuk people of the Noongar nation. We pay respects to their elders past, present, and emerging.

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