Tag Archives: Dan Bottomley



Fairfield Halls & UK tour



Fairfield Halls, Croydon

Reviewed – 9th January 2020



“The lovelorn numbers may be predominantly in the minor keys, but the show is a major triumph”


It is a popular genre at the moment: the list is vast, and still growing, of movies turned into musical stage shows. They are greeted with varying degrees of commercial and critical success, but once in a while a show stands out from the crowd. “Once” is one of those shows and it is simultaneously easy and hard to see why. Dispensing with the razzamatazz and big budget bombast it quietly charms with a simplicity that aims straight for the heart.

Based on John Carney’s film of the same name it features the music and lyrics of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. Carney and Hansard were both members of Irish band, The Frames, and the autobiographical slant (Hansard also spent many years busking on the streets of Dublin) lends an unforced authenticity to the evening. The unwavering quality of detail extends to all aspects of the production. From the outset Libby Watson’s brilliantly effective design draws us into a pub, somewhere in Dublin and somewhere in the last two decades of the twentieth century. It’s seemingly a lock-in and a ceilidh is in full swing. In a seamless shift from pre-show to show we find ourselves back out on the streets where Guy, a busker, stands alone with just a guitar and an emotionally charged, cracked voice. You’ve seen him, every hundred yards, along Grafton Street, in rain or shine, pouring more of his heart into his battered case than passers-by drop coins. A Czech woman (known simply as ‘Girl’) is captivated. She rescues him from his torpor and the ensuing ‘will-they-won’t-they’ romance is a delight. We have fallen in love with them way before we discover whether they will fall in love with each other.

Enda Walsh’s book shows him on top form, mixing quick-fire comic patois with pathos. Often in the same line. “Love is all very well but in the hands of people it turns to soup”. We laugh but we know it’s true. And the truth is there right up to the unsentimental unpredictability of the outcome. It is as human as you can get, matched by the performances. Daniel Healy’s ‘Guy’ is a beautifully studied portrayal of the wary, diffident troubadour who can really only belt out his true self in song. Emma Lucia beguiles as ‘Girl’; brutally honest and teasing yet vulnerable and tender. The equally magnificent supporting cast take on a variety of roles, in between which they pick up a variety of musical instruments to startling effect.

And this is where the show comes into the fore. The musicianship is faultless and under Peter Rowe’s stylised direction and Francesca Jaynes’ choreography the staging is beautifully crafted. The ensemble move as one with metronomic precision. Often such technical virtuosity can soften the emotional punch, but it is the music that ultimately leads us to the standing ovation this show deservedly receives. Rooted in Celtic folk and Irish culture it has a very contemporary feel, be it Indie-Folk, Indie-Rock, Folk-Rock or another combination. It wears its influences openly but there is no denying the heart-melting effect of the close harmonies and keening melodies. Lucia’s gorgeous solo rendition of ‘The Hill’, the ensemble, a Capella ‘Gold’, Healey’s tender, melancholic ‘Leave’ are but a few of the numbers that pave the way to the climactic, Oscar-winning ‘Falling Slowly’ which, once again, hits the jackpot.

‘Once’ is a musical that is anthemic and intimate. The lovelorn numbers may be predominantly in the minor keys, but the show is a major triumph.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Mark Senior



Fairfield Halls until 11th January then UK tour continues


Last ten shows reviewed by Jonathan:
Endless Second | ★★★ | Pleasance Theatre | November 2019
Frankenstein | ★★★ | Richmond Theatre | November 2019
Heroin(e) For Breakfast | ★★★★★ | Pleasance Theatre | November 2019
High Fidelity | ★★★★★ | The Turbine Theatre | November 2019
Wireless Operator | ★★★★ | Pleasance Theatre | November 2019
42nd Street | ★★★★ | Upstairs at the Gatehouse | December 2019
Bells And Spells | ★★★★★ | The Coronet Theatre | December 2019
Teenage Dick | ★★★★ | Donmar Warehouse | December 2019
The Lying Kind | ★★★ | Ram Jam Records | December 2019
The Nativity Panto | ★★★★ | King’s Head Theatre | December 2019


Click here to see our most recent reviews


Grimm’s Fairy Tales – 2 Stars


Grimm’s Fairy Tales

White Bear Theatre

Reviewed – 5th April 2018


“they stray from the source material even further than Gretel wanders away from her path through the woods”


Once upon a time, two centuries ago, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm set out to gather folk stories for posterity. Little did they know that the collection of tales they published would become one of the most widely read works in history, capturing the popular imagination around the world for generations. Among the countless interpretations there have been there is a new, inventive theatre company that are adding their own twist in their rather unadventurously titled “Grimm’s Fairy Tales”.

Hansel is kept captive in the wicked witch’s house as she fattens him up. Gretel cannot save him on her own, so she goes in search of a man who can. On her journey through the forest she meets some very oddball individuals, very loosely based on the characters created by the two brothers.

For three nights only, Ha-Hum-Ah Theatre bring this re-imagining of the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales to the White Bear Theatre. Drawing on some of the more obscure stories; such as ‘Cat and Mouse in Partnership’, ‘The Fisherman and his Wife’, ‘The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage’ and ‘The Brave Little Tailor’ among others, they aim to add a contemporary and comedic layer to the stories. In doing so they stray from the source material even further than Gretel wanders away from her path through the woods. It’s a bit of a whirlwind walkabout with too many confusing references that in the end we can’t see the wood for the trees.

The company have great ambition and there are some strong traces of originality evident, but it seems that they have not yet found their audience. The exaggerated performances that border on pantomime seem to be aimed at the CBBC crowd, yet the smattering of expletives thrown into the text come across as a rather weak hook to snare the late-night theatre goer. Though there is no denying the energy of the cast of four who take on the multiple roles. They wittily incorporate the logistical difficulties and the low budget limitations into the action. And there is a real team spirit among the four actors on stage that is vaguely infectious.

The meanderings of Ben Kernow’s script are interspersed with songs by Dan Bottomley. While containing sharp-witted lyrics they are sorely let down by the pre-recorded backing tracks that accompany them. But the addition of music reinforces the suspicion that this show doesn’t quite know what it is yet. Is this a comedy? Is it a musical? Fewer ingredients thrown into the witch’s brew would make for a clearer picture.

There is a very funny, and unexpected, punchline though, but like a shaggy dog story, it is a bit of a trek to get there. Whether that journey is worth it is up to the listener. As the old adage goes; it’s the way you tell ‘em.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Ben Kernow


Grimm’s Fairy Tales

White Bear Theatre until 7th April



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