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Read: Once the musical soothed my grumpiness

What I love about live theatre is its ability to take me out of my own head and often change my mood. I needed that last night. I was tired and grumpy for no particular reason, and I was also sitting in the ASB Waterfront theatre next to a woman who kept rustling a sweet packet through the entire first half of the show. Boy did I want to slap her! 

It’s just as well then, that the musical Once managed to soothe the beast seething within me. It’s an unusual show really because it feels so ‘anti-theatre’. It’s stripped back to just the very basics. There’s no big band or orchestra or large music and dance numbers. This is a musical with minimal set and props. The instruments are guitars, violins, a cello, piano and drum set. It has the feeling of a simple gig rather than a stage show and that is its strength. 

The songs themselves are also simple and bare, filled with lyrics that deal with fundamental human emotions. Their power lies in the way this quite remarkable group of musicians and singers perform them. There is a rawness and intensity about this cast and their connection with the songs is profound and believable. 

The story is as spartan as the set, just a five day encounter between a Czech woman and an Irish man. Both of them are damaged and diminished from previous relationships. Even their dialogue and encounters are clipped and also stripped to their basic elements. Through their love of music, something develops between them, but what is it? And where will it take them? 

It’s not entirely perfect – there were one or two moments when one singer seemed slightly off key, dialogue was sometimes hard to hear due to some issue with the way the microphones were set up. And then there was that sweet eater beside me. 

Thankfully, the sheer simplicity of the show and the beautiful way it was orchestrated left me mellow and content. That is the beauty of Once –it’s a sweet, melancholy vignette of life that leaves us not with a finale where all is resolved, but something open ended with many more unanswered questions. And isn’t that the perfect reflection of human life and relationships? 


27 June – 14 July 2019

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