By Carly Fisher
It’s simple in concept – boy meets girl and though they appear different at first, their falling in love is inevitable. In so far as the story goes, Enda Walsh’s Once is a familiar trope and yet, on opening night inside the Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s Eternity Playhouse, no one seemed to mind that we may know how it ends, only that we were included in every bit of magic along the way.
And magic it was. Unquestionably the stand out show of the Darlinghurst’s season, Once is a raw and stripped back musical that focuses first and foremost on the story and not on the theatrics of the musical theatre genre. The music is heavily folk based and is performed on stage by the cast to perfection under the exceptionally skillful eye of fellow cast member, multi-instrumentalist and Musical Director, Victoria Falconer. There are no costume changes, the set moves only at the hands of the onstage cast and the scene changes are marked with excited musical flair by the ensemble (highlights of the show) – this is simply refined musical theatre storytelling done extremely well under the perfect leadership of Director Richard Carroll.
The drive of the show comes almost exclusively from Stefanie Caccamo as Girl who delivers not only stellar vocals but a fire to Girl that gives her a sense of agency that I was so glad to see written into the female’s storyline – especially into a migrant story – if only this was more the norm! When this Girl hears Guy play his music on the side of the road and realizes he is laying down not only his talent but his music forever at the conclusion of that song, she jumps in. A fixer-upper vacuum cleaner, some tough love and ultimate sweet talking and the two find a passion for music and creation in only 5 days that supersedes anything they’d known before them. Caccamo was the perfect casting choice for this role – a true leading lady with the drive to get both Guy and Girl to the end point she knows from the beginning they must arrive at, and a vocalist with angelic tones that audiences should race to hear. Caccamo is a new name to me but one I will not soon be forgetting – this lady is a young star of the Australian stage and I cannot wait to see her in many more shows.
As Guy, Toby Francis gave a performance to best anything I have seen him do thus far. As the dooey eyed, lost Irish music-man, Francis’ performance was certainly strong and whilst his delivery musically felt sublime through many a song, particularly in the duets with Caccamo, a little more diversity in his line delivery would have kept a little of the apathy towards this character at bay, something I didn’t feel at all for Girl. That said though, as a performer who we in Sydney are becoming more and more familiar with, to my mind, this is a stand out role for Francis.
The Ensemble was exceptional – the tightness of the group was reinforced by Amy Campbell’s perfectly appropriate movement direction. that gave the piece such life and fluidity and this wonderful change of pace throughout to always keep the audience on their toes. Between Campbell’s movement choreography, Falconer’s Music Direction and ultimately, Carroll’s delicate, detailed and sophisticated vision for this piece, the company at large clearly had exactly the leadership that they needed to pull off this great piece.
Often taken for granted, the accent work in this piece was executed immaculately by the cast under Voice and Dialect Coach, Linda Nicholls-Gidley. Nicholls-Gidley has been responsible for a large majority of the accent work you have seen across companies in Sydney all year and in a year with already bright accent work successes for her, Once stands out as a major triumph!
The perfectly appropriate yet muted yet designed by Hugh O’Connor gives us just enough insight into the world of these characters whilst still never trying to overcompensate for the many locations this piece could be set in. Instead, the audience is asked to follow on with the story led by Guy and Girl and to piece their world together, and it is this trust in the audience’s imagination that, to my mind, marks O’Connor’s design and director Richard Carroll as some of the best in this sector of theatre industry. Inviting the audience to be a part of the world without all the answers but with every suggestion is a perfect way to engage the audience in the creation of this world – of their world. Peter Rubie’s lighting design supported this perfectly and offered moments of lighting perfection that I believe, if you are interested in lighting, warrant seeing the show alone – it’s a complex design so effective it looks simple.
There is no denying that Once will not be a musical to everyone’s speed and if you are looking for a big production or a Broadway blockbuster, I will caution that this is not a musical for you. This is a musical for anyone who likes folk music, story driven musicals or simply a good, simple love story brought to life by a great team with a lovely soundtrack to it. Personally, Once was a musical that I hadn’t been all that interested in before, but was thrilled to hear it was coming to Sydney. I’m even more thrilled now that it came and it was fabulous.
Photo Credit: Robert Catto
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.