Once (Phoenix Theatre)
Ronan Keating makes his theatrical debut in the stage adaptation of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová's Oscar-winning film
I should probably start this review by answering the question you are inevitably here to see the answer to; how good is Ronan Keating? But to do so would be to defy the very raison d'être of this ode to music and love, and the infinite relationship between the two.
From its humble beginnings as a low budget cult flick written by and starring the relatively unknown Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, through to its current incarnation at the Phoenix Theatre, via an Academy Award and hit Broadway stage premiere, Once has never been about celebrity, we are not expected to love the story because of the name above the title, but to marvel in the real star of the show, the music.
And so it would be wrong to praise or condemn this particular show based on the performance of its most recent lead actor. The main selling point of this stage adaptation, aside from the score, is what can arguably be described as the most talented all round cast on the West End. Jill Winternitz continues to impress as 'Girl', the perfect mix of Czech charm and chutzpah. There's also stand out performances from Tim Prottey-Jones as music shop owner Billy and Jez Unwin's straight-laced Bank Manager. But the ensemble as a whole entity are truly a force to be reckoned with, a bevy of talented actor-musicians who work beautifully in sync to deliver this heart warming tale.
Keating makes a fair stage debut as Guy, a Hoover fixer-come-budding singer-songwriter. As expected, he can sing the songs - even though a few falsettos are missing, most noticeably in "Falling Slowly". However he fails to bring the same depth to the role as his predecessors, each of whom offered something new in their interpretations. Declan Bennett's Guy was gritty and somewhat reserved, Arthur Darvill's was a mixture of intense intimacy and cheekiness and David Hunter brought a vulnerability and charm not seen in the other portrayals. Keating's doesn't go much further than face value and one thinks he may have had a more successful stage debut over the road at The Commitments, rather than this delicate role that leaves nowhere to hide.
Casting a celebrity in Once is like graffitiing a Banksy over a Monet; whilst the Kissing Policemen may be more popular and bring in a modern crowd, it will inevitably detract from the beauty of the Water Lilies.
That being said, Once remains a beautiful show. The songs speak to the heart like no other musical on the West End can do, the sheer talent on stage is remarkable and I for one will be sad to see it leave in the new year.
Once is booking at the Phoenix Theatre until 21 March before embarking on a European tour. For more information and to book tickets, click here.