Theatre Review: Once

There’s a beautiful simplicity to Once that’s allowed it to garner various awards and accolades since its 2007 film debut. Written by John Carney and originally starring singer frontman of the Irish band The Frames, Glen Hansard, and his Czech collaborator/musician Markéta Irglová, Once provides proof to the assertion that simple done well can be a home run. As such, Once is a warm-blooded, taut, moving love story that translates perfectly to the stage; it is one of Neptune Theatre‘s most down-to-earth productions of late and one you’ll definitely want to see. 

Once is grounded in a skillfully-crafted tavern in Dublin. The setting feels instantly familiar, crowded with an energetic ensemble of friendly regulars. As such, Once instantly explodes to life with a series of both fun and inspiring folk songs. At the centre of our story is our two leads, simply named Guy and Girl. Guy, (played by Peter Deiwick) is an Irish vacuum repairman with a knack for beautiful songwriting and performing, even if he is admittedly somewhat reluctant to do so. After being coaxed to sing an original ballad, Guy meets Girl (Amanda LeBlanc), an assertive Czech immigrant who appears with a message that Guy’s music is too rare a thing not to share with a wider audience. Offering her own services as a singer, pianist, and songwriter, Girl pledges to help him make this dream a reality. Deiwick wears Guy’s skin well, initially portraying his character with a false façade of confidence and lone-wolf mentality, hoping that his skills as a musician are enough alone to win Girl’s affection, but Girl, beautifully played by LeBlanc, sees through his ruse and makes Guy work hard— harder than he’s ever worked before, but to help himself. Girl’s immigrant backstory and mentality is effective, driving home the point to Guy that nothing good comes for free. She fully recognizes the potential of this stranger and subsequently discovers her own power long-thought vanished.

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Amanda LeBlanc and Peter Deiwick. Photo by Timothy Richard

As we all know too well, love never exists free of complication. Guy and Girl are both struggling with the states of their romantic lives; Guy confides that he is dealing with the loss of an ex-girlfriend and uses it as an emotional crutch— he is distant and apathetic, seeming content to not do anything meaningful with his life. On the other side of things, Girl is raising her daughter in Dublin while her uninvolved, absentee husband still resides in the Czech Republic; his existence, though never seen, looms in much of Girl’s actions, and her desire to keep her family together largely dictates the way Once plays out. LeBlanc and Deiwick both instill tremendous likeability and vulnerability into their roles; they share a genuine chemistry onstage, allowing their respective characters to both convincingly comfort and challenge one another. Through them we are reminded that while some people need a push in life, others need that support system to have and rely on. Similar props can be given to the large and relatively new Neptune ensemble cast, who are all given a moment to shine; the array of fresh faces breathes welcome life into this Neptune show and keeps up the show’s pulse with a steady and entertaining beat.

There are countless songs to be found and enjoyed in Once, and the musical calibre equally balances and matches its dramatic counterpart. Original songwriters Hansard and Irglová are done justice; “If Your Mind’s Made Up” and “Say It To Me Now” performed by Deiwick are emotionally-charged powerhouse numbers. Likewise LeBlanc’s rendition of “If You Want Me” is as compelling as it is haunting. Furthermore, the cast’s double performance of the Oscar-winning song, “Falling Slowly” hits all the right notes, making it the beautiful centrepiece for the show it deserves to be.

To write Once off as a simple love story would be a cop out; although a slightly longer show at two hours, Once is packed with complex, memorable performances complemented by songs propelled and bolstered by immense musical talent. I suspect that a lot of love and passion went into this particular Neptune show; I believe the end result has paid off immensely.

Neptune Theatre‘s presentation of Once is on now through Sunday, May 28th; tickets are available online or at their box office (902-429-7070), at 1593 Argyle Street.

All photos credited to Timothy Richard.

About the author

Carey Bray

Carey Bray is a local artist, actor/director, and writer residing in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. He has previously written reviews and interviews for The Coast's 2015/2016 Halifax Fringe Festival, Atlantic Books Today, and the online blog, Hello Dartmouth. You'll find more of Carey's work on his blog, Drifted.