Tag Archives: Susannah van den Berg

Once

★★★★★

Fairfield Halls & UK tour

Once

Once

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

 

Once

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

 

Oranges & Elephants – 3 Stars

Oranges

Oranges & Elephants

Hoxton Hall

Reviewed – 25th January 2018

★★★

“the evening becomes muddled when Music Hall and Musical Theatre seem to pitch battle against each other”

 

You can see why Lil Warren, the writer and creator behind “Oranges and Elephants”, fell in love with Hoxton Hall. Restored to its former glory it seems to bring history to life the moment you walk in. The perfect setting, then, for her new musical about rival Victorian gangs and their links to London’s Music Hall world.

Impeccably researched (Warren is an East End girl herself) it focuses on two all-female street gangs: the ‘Elephants’ and the more psychotic ‘Oranges’. We are at the tail end of a long running feud as they battle against their wits, each other, and extinction. The all female cast, far from being a modern day, buzz worthy contrivance, pinpoints the historical truth that this underworld wasn’t just the preserve of men. This is a story of how important your wits are to survive if you are poor and a woman in Victorian London. But gender aside, it is difficult to believe in the characters’ desperation and fear when they often drift into caricature.

The evening is presided over by the ringmaster figure of Susannah van den Berg who narrates with equal measures of gusto and smut, getting the audience firmly on her side. She leads us through the streets of London, and through the action. Into the midst of the gang warfare, the ingénue (but don’t be fooled by appearances) runaway Mary wanders. She wants to be a Music Hall star, while the leaders of the two gangs both want to ‘own’ her. Mary is initially ensnared by Flo (a convincingly cutthroat Kate Adams), the leader of the ‘Oranges’, until Nellie of the ‘Elephants’ falls in love with her and they try to escape from thievery to the bright lights of Piccadilly.

Although concisely conveyed, the evening becomes muddled when Music Hall and Musical Theatre seem to pitch battle against each other, and the strength of the narrative gets lost in the scuffle. That said, the level of musicianship is consistently excellent and there are some very memorable and outstanding numbers in Jo Collins’ score. Liz Kitchen’s Sondheimesque solo to name one, along with a fierce revenge ballad superbly delivered by the charismatic Rebecca Bainbridge. But the stars of the show are undoubtedly the multi-talented Christina Tedders who plays Nellie, and Sinead Long (the runaway Mary). It is no surprise to see them share a heart-wrenching duet before tragedy strikes. Tedders’ virtuosity on the violin is matched by her singing voice, while Long has star quality written all over her.

At over two hours this is initially a slow burner that does eventually win you over. With a bit of pruning it could make its job that much easier. Yes – it is the perfect musical for Hoxton Hall – but, like the characters within it, it might find it a struggle to outreach its life expectancy if it strays from its home turf. I’d like to think it has a long and healthy life, and if it can adapt and survive, it deserves to find a wider audience out there.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Sharron Wallace

 

Hoxton Hall

Oranges & Elephants

Hoxton Hall until 10th February

 

 

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