Australian Premiere of Irish Musical

A Theatre Review by Frances Devlin-Glass


Once, On stage

Once, a new musical, based on a film script by Enda Walsh.

Directed by John Tiffany for John Frost, Barbara Broccoli, John N. Hart Jnr, Patrick Milling Smith and Frederick Zollo in association with the Melbourne Theatre Company, at the Princess Theatre. Until 9 November 2014.

As soon as one starts to talk musical by an Irish author, one is quickly in transnational territory. This is a show which started life as a film, and was then adapted for the stage – where else but in New York? There it has won bucket-loads of awards.

Its Dublin setting is a delight, but it’s a European Dublin that we see, as it brings into its orbit the Eastern Europeans, Czechs in this case, who came when the Tiger roared. The cross-cultural banter will stir pride in any Irish-identified person as it is good hearted and generous. We watch the main character, an underpowered Dubliner, played by Tom Parsons, immobilised by fear gather strength in response to a Czech woman, Madeleine Jones, who loves his music and can see past his fallibility and act swiftly and effectively.

All the actors are also musicians, and fantastic musicians, and dancers. Fiddles, banjos, double basses, guitars, a drum kit, tambourine, piano accordion, concertina. The music keeps the play grounded in Ireland, with some middle European elements too, but it’s lovesongs and lovetalk that are both sentimental and anti-sentimental that give heart to this play. It’s a play about love, but also the love of music that crosses all manner of cultural divides. It was feel-good theatre at every level. As people left the theatre, I overheard comments like: ‘I loved it because of the music’; ‘I thought its best thing was its comedy’.

The cast, as well as playing multiple instruments, sing and dance and do routines that have a touch of Broadway slickness, without quite capitulating to tap. It’s not Irish or Flatley either. So, the choreography was quite sui generis and always illuminating.

The set design is simple but ingenious – featuring a huge circular bar, with lots of mirrors, warmed by golden washes. It’s hugely nostalgic – the old style bar where the cráic is good and the music better. In addition, the same space easily doubles as a recording studio, a vacuum cleaner repair shop and the dwelling above.  I also enjoyed the theatrical antics in circulating props, changing scenes, and the very brilliant moment when the exposed back wall of the Princess, which is not a pretty sight, became a walkway in a Dublin street, with a wash of light that made it look stunningly beautiful.

Why the MTC has committed to such a short season and in a theatre not their own remains a mystery, and I assume it’s being tried out for a longer run.  But just in case, it’s a blow-in that doesn’t stick around, you’re going to have to rush to see this show as it ends on 9 November. I’d say make a huge effort to get tickets. If you fancy a love-story and a paean of praise for Music, this is a treat.


 Frances Devlin-Glass

Frances is a member of the Tinteán editorial collective.

One thought on “Australian Premiere of Irish Musical

  1. A really positive and expertly detailed review and in elegant language. This is clearly a must for Melburnians and clever shows like Once must be encouraged. We are so lucky.

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