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Belgrade Theatre review: Once

Once, Belgrade, Coventry, to March 14.

The lovely, poignant story - a book, an award-winning film from 2007, and this stage musical - tells of an unnamed busker Guy (Daniel Healy) and Girl (Emma Lucia) meeting in Dublin, falling in love, sharing an extraordinary talent for music, and eventually finding a way to record their original songs.

But when they meet, Guy is about to give up on his music. His songs were written for a former love who left him to go to New York and he is resigned to working for his Da (Peter Peverley), repairing vacuum cleaners.

Girl fires him up with a renewed sense of life and purpose. The relationship deepens, but she has her own responsibilities which she can't shake off easily.

The pair might belong together, but will it happen? The stage adaptation of the film opened in 2011 and not surprisingly was a huge success on Broadway and in the UK. The music (composed by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, the stars of the film), is beautiful, and brilliantly performed by a cast of incredibly talented actor-musicians.

There's a musical treat even before the play gets under way. As the audience enters, the cast are on stage - the set is the interior of a Dublin bar - and playing traditional Irish songs including The Fields of Athenry.

They are actually a great band. They could do a lot worse than carrying on playing together.

But in this play, the musicians are the actors too. Healy and Lucia are terrific as Guy and Girl. Their voices work perfectly together. And the final version of the Oscar-winning Falling Slowly is the stand-out number of the evening. Magical. There's plenty of humour in the mix. The bank manager (Samuel Martin) who can make or break Guy and Girl's dream is a wannabe musician himself; Girl’s mother Baruska, (Susannah Van Den Berg) and the people who pepper Guy and Girl's lives - Girl's brazen friend Reza (Hanna Khogali), music shop owner Billy (Dan Bottomley), and Svec (Lloyd Gorman), all enliven the stage.

Libby Watson's Dublin pub set is the main backdrop but it changes subtly and cleverly to suggest the main characters' homes, a bank, even a recording studio, as small pieces of furniture are wheeled on and off stage by the actors. And when the ceiling of the pub lifts to reveal a deep blue moonlit sky, it's a reminder that there is a world full of possibilities out there. A beautiful love story full of charm, Once is a gift of a show that everyone should see.

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