Review by Shibley Ahmed
Eight years ago I stumbled upon a low-budget indie film that received enthusiastic reviews but very little public fanfare. It was a film that was about songwriting as much as it was about emotional survival. It was probably the pacing, unknown cast, or rudimentary way in which it was shot that could have driven people away from the box-office. However a year later it won an Academy Award for Best Original Song and before you knew it, this little film from Ireland had the audience it deserved.
Director John Tiffany & The Mirvish Theatre’s production of John Carney’s “Once” does an excellent job in keeping with the integrity of the original story and altering it just enough in order for it to breathe life onto the stage.
“Once” is the story of two unnamed people living in Dublin whose lives intertwine on a street corner through the love of music and the melancholy of personal loss. Guitar-wielding Irishman “Guy” (Ian Lake) works at a vacuum repair shop with his dad and busks whenever he can to make a little extra money. He is quite clearly a man that is about to give up on himself. The songs that he holds so deeply in his heart are just constant reminders of a happier time gone by. “Girl” (Trish Lindström) a Czech immigrant, sees her own struggles within Guy. The single mother trained in classical piano has previously gone through this phase in her own life, thus acts as a companion to a man on the verge of breaking and disconnecting from his greatest asset.
The original songs written by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová are undoubtedly the stars of the show. The soundtrack of this story is laced with sentiment and carries a definite air of sadness. The task of emoting the pain confined within each note is done terrifically by both Lake and Lindström. As impressive as their vocal talents are, so is their instrumental expertise. Unplugged and powerful versions of “If You Want Me” and Oscar winning “Falling Slowly” showcase all facets of this skill-set. Accompanied by an equally talented ensemble of artists including standout supporting performances by Stephen Guy-McGrath (Billy) and Brandon McGibbon (Švec) we follow along to the trials of two young dreamers and their quirky makeshift band as they hope to forever capture the art they have created.
The set was constructed to give the aesthetic of an Irish pub, providing a relaxed atmosphere in which to look into the lives of others seem oddly appropriate. The vibe inside the usually cavernous Mirvish Theatre was transformed to make us feel as if we were watching an intimate concert as opposed to a musical drama. The cast even welcomed patrons to join them with their drinks on stage before the show for an up-close jam session.
A compelling play about life, “Once” reminds us of heartbreak, re-invention, and wholeheartedly committing to the moment… no matter how brief that may be.
Once will be at the Ed Mirvish Theatre until May 31st. Call 416-872-1212