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Once. Milton Keynes Theatre.

Once is a triumph. Even before the show officially starts the cast are on stage having an impromptu sing a long in a Dublin pub. It feels very authentic and really sets the scene for what is to come. Its so much fun that you almost forget you are here to see a show and not just a Guinness and a craic. If this isn’t a great advert to visit Dublin, I don’t know what is!

The story is a ‘Girl’ meets ‘Guy’ story but not what you expect. It’s a complicated story. The guy is a typical Dublin guy who has dreamed about being a successful singer-songwriter but with a broken heart he is on the verge of giving up. Instead he is fixing Hoovers in his dad’s shop. Guy meet Girl and with her with her boundless optimism, common sense and motivation, is exactly the kick up the backside ‘Guy’ needs to recharge his batteries and restore his faith in, not only the power of music but also the power of love. I said its complicated and it is. Guy is still in love with his girlfriend who has gone to America and Girl is married with a kid. But there are people who enter your life for a reason and this is the nature of this story. Set over only five days, Once changes two people’s lives for ever.

Guy is played by Daniel Healy and when God was giving out talents, he was front of the queue. Not only can he sing but he acts with such heart I challenge anyone not to feel his plight. I was also shocked to hear he isn’t from Dublin, so authentic was his Dublin accent. Daniel is a renowned singer-songwriter, who has co-written songs with legendary Ronan Keating. His theatre credits include Backbeat and Once, both in the West End. Girl was played by Emma Lucia. Emma is hugely talented and plays the piano throughout the show very beautifully. Emma Lucia made her professional debut as Marilyn and understudying Carole King in the UK Tour of Beautiful, before taking on the role of Girl in Once. Her accent is Czech with a hint of Irish and it felt a bit strange however we later learn that her family learnt English by watching Irish soaps on TV. It still felt a bit like the policeman in ‘Ello ‘Ello to me, but I believe this is intentional for comedic relief. I liked the touch of using Czech subtitles when the family are talking so we know they are really talking Czech rather than English.

Actually, I have to say the whole cast are very talented. It’s a show that has all the cast playing instruments on stage, which regular readers of my blogs will know is a pet hate of mine. However, this is the perfect setting to do this and actually I can’t imagine this show with an orchestra. I loved how the cast were acting even when in the background, for example, leaning forward to hear a key statement. It’s beautifully put together.

Once premiered at the New York Theatre Workshop in 2011 before transferring to Broadway in where it won eight Tony Awards including Best Musical and the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theatre Album. Once is written by award-winning playwright Enda Walsh, who is the genius behind David Bowie’s Lazarus which also premiered at New York Theatre’s workshop. Music & Lyrics are from Academy Award winning Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová who won the Oscar for Best Original Song. Let me say the songs are fabulous and there are ballads that should be charting in my humble opinion.

My only criticism of the show is at the end the audience clearly wanted more, as they were on their feet clapping and cheering along. But isn’t that the best criticism you can have? Leave them wanting more.

Once tells the story of two lost souls - a Dublin street busker and a Czech musician - who find each other and change each other’s lives. It is story of hopes and dreams. Come and experience those hopes and dreams at Milton Keynes Theatre this week.

ONCE Is at Milton Keynes Theatre until 22 February, where it then continues its UK tour.

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