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Once: Ashcroft Playhouse, Croydon (and touring)

Seen at the afternoon performance on 28th December 2019.

After a change of performance date, and two changes of seat, the monkey finally got to see one of the greatest (and its personal favourite) musicals of the decade again.

Anticipation was high, given this version’s stunning debut at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, followed by the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch – where the monkey was left sobbing helplessly in October 2018. The chemistry between Guy (Daniel Healy) and Girl (Emma Lucia) exceeded the original West End cast, and it couldn’t wait to see them again...

Sadly, Ms Lucia was indisposed at this performance, with cover Hanna Khogali taking over the role for the very first time. Good enough to be promoted to “onstage swing” so soon after training means that Ms Khogali is recognised as having a remarkable talent. Word and note-perfect as Girl, the only thing lacking in her performance was experience and bonding with her Guy. Neither can come except with time and trust build during lengthy rehearsal, so “fair play” to her in the part.

The rest of this particular afternoon suffered somewhat from “Inter-Christmas Fever.” The monkey normally avoids seeing any theatre during the week between Christmas and New Year as it knows shows are never at their best. Actors do multiple performances several days in a row - balancing their personal commitments between. The result is always tiredness, and the audience isn’t in much better shape.

Sound faults dominated the first five minutes, and there were mis-timed lines and malfunctioning props -elements absent from the immaculate Hornchurch presentation.

Fortunately, the show remains strong enough to carry it all. Healy’s Guy, without his usual Girl to play off, did his best to match his new working partner’s inexperience. The searing wounds were absent; instead, this really was two strangers figuring each other out, and there was a new angle to the unspoken declarations on the cliff, as they appeared a true discovery.

Finding something new in man-hunter Reza, Ellen Chivers plays her as amused by men rather than disdainfully playing them. Being caught by her may be less painful than usual, perhaps. Likewise, Rosalind Ford as Ex-Girlfriend has notable fresh impact on the action – not just for the vast musical instrument she swings, but as a constant interested presence on the stage.

Male newcomers David Heywood as Emcee, Matthew Burns as Eamon and Dan Bottomley as Billy do equally well, slotting into the cast and creating some strong moments in the acceptance of music and sexuality as well as the fate and strained situation of the show’s setting.

Returnees Peter Peverley (Da), Susannah Van Den Berg (Baruska), Lloyd Gorman (Svec) and Samuel Martin (Bank Manager) are as before – confident and enjoying their roles even more.

As the show heads out around the country, there’s no doubt it will reach full intensity again. Even here, the monkey still shed a tear at the end, proving that it all is on track to charm the thousands more who will hopefully get to see this musical masterpiece.


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