Review: Once (Fairfield Halls and UK tour)

The award-winning folk musical embarks on its first UK tour

Emma Lucia and Daniel Healy in the Once UK tour
Emma Lucia and Daniel Healy in the Once UK tour
© Mark Senior

"Lonely is a big part of the world nowadays", muses one of the characters in Once. Yet this aching romance conjures up a beautiful sense that despite us all feeling loneliness, feeling it together can make it somewhat better.

Enda Walsh's multi-award-winning busking musical, based on the 2007 cult film, centres around an unnamed 'Guy' (Daniel Healy) and 'Girl' (Emma Lucia) meeting, their mutual love and extraordinary talent for music, and their joint venture of recording their original songs. While Girl breathes a renewed sense of life back into Guy, she herself begins to realise her own personal responsibilities to her family, despite a wonderful new musical (and maybe more) partnership. It's a tale as old as time of yearning love and not-quite-right timings, full of big heart and beautiful voices.

And gosh, the songs really are beautiful – many taken from the film itself. The folk score (composed by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová), played by a cast of incredible actor-musicians, will be sure to tug on your heartstrings. From the first moments of "Falling Slowly", it felt as if the entire audience had collectively taken a deep breath in – exhaled only at the finale. Healy and Lucia are mesmerising as Guy and Girl, with rich, smooth voices to accompany; I could listen to them sing for hours. Healy's solo songs are excellent throughout, while there is some gorgeous lyrical choreography (by Francesca Jaynes) during "If You Want Me" sung by a female trio (Lucia, Ellen Chivers and Rosalind Ford).
It is the a capella reprise of ‘Gold', however, which is the stand out number of the evening. Listening to these voices is magical, with the audience so attentive you can hear a pin drop. It's a real tear-jerker in a completely wonderful way. The songs don't necessarily move the plot along, but they capture the mood of the story perfectly: a city full of lovers and dreamers.

Weaving through these emotional highs are some genuinely funny moments which balance out the profundity, featuring an array of people that pepper Guy and Girl's lives, from Girl's confident, brazen friend Reza (Chivers) dancing with music shop owner Billy (Dan Bottomley) in the pub to Svec (Lloyd Gorman) ripping off his trousers in order to muffle the sound of his drums.

Libby Watson's set stays in a pub for the whole show, a cosy atmosphere fitted with framed pictures and mismatched chairs and sofas. When the action moves to other places – bedrooms, a recording studio – only small pieces of furniture are wheeled on. It's a story that could be told time and time again over a pint at the bar.

When the ceiling of the pub lifts to reveal a deep blue moonlit sky, it's a reminder that there is a world full of possibilities on this earth, and we should just take Girl's advice and "go".

A beautiful love story full of buckets of charm and heart-fluttering moments, Once really is a gift of a show that everyone should see.