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Review: Once @ Olympia Theatre, Dublin

Having put a focus on obtaining a really musically talented cast, brought the simpler elements of the story to the fore and utilized a clever set extremely well, the latest incarnation of Once – showing at the Olympia Theatre until late August – is astoundingly well done.

Adapting Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova’s music and taking much that is good from the 2007 movie, the musical is set entirely in a surround with the feel of an old-school Irish pub, the fluid cast almost constantly on stage in their entirety as they perform the backing track to a gentle tale.

Niamh Perry, playing ‘girl’, is the undoubted star. Credit has to be given for her convincing and unwavering switch into a Czech accent, but what really stands out are her vocals, and the restrained tension she creates around the lead man Brian Gilligan.

While the pre-interval part of the show is relatively light hearted, full of local colour and witty patter, things take an intense turn after the interval, with the emotional love story at the heart of the tale coming to the fore to glorious effect.

The stage comes to life to suit, too, and there’s an impressive array of character development, in the narrow but entertaining lives of ‘Girl’s Czech housemates, the occasional but memorable appearances of her daughter, and Phelim Drew’s wacky interludes as music store owner Billy, a lively stereotype of the witty North Dubliner.

Then there are the gimmicks. The best come in the pre-show, pub-style performance from the cast, which takes place with the audience on stage and able to buy from the bar positioned as part of the scenery. It works well, too, but the key here is in the simplicity and the casting. Perry is outstanding all round. Gilligan has a solid voice and his character constantly seems on the verge of a nervous breakdown, while the extras have a smart dynamic adding to the humour.

All in, Once is a wonderfully produced package, with ample entertainment value that also tugs firmly on the heartstrings, the relationships thoroughly believable. The emotion in Perry as she bowed before an opening night audience said it all: this might be just another step on the road this musical has been powering down over the last few years, but it is also something very special.

As published in the Dublin Gazette, July 13 edition. Reproduced here with permission.

Once: Dublin’s melodic fairytale comes home.

The all-conquering musical returns to Dublin for a new run, complete with its first ever all-Irish cast

HAVING BEEN A hit movie and a startlingly successful Broadway show, Once’s return to what seems its spiritual home – the Olympia Theatre in Dublin – is a big one, especially with much of the cast renewed, and what’s become a big, global name to live up to.

Once is both unique, and uniquely Irish. With the lead characters played by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova in the hit movie version, the play riffs off a similar theme, taking music from the city’s streets and capturing its textures and nuance on stage. There are some subtle touches: an on-stage bar; the ‘non-acting’ role of the characters in providing musical entertainment before the main performance gets underway, and a relatively unscripted style that makes no two performances quite the same.

Phelim Drew – who’s featured in movies including The Commitments, Angela’s Ashes and King Arthur – has a lifelong connection with Irish music through his father, Dubliners star Ronnie Drew. He’s long since established as a name in his own right, however, and the return of Once this summer also marks his return to the role of Billy.

“It’s a different cast – an all Irish one – and the chemistry has changed considerably,” Drew told the Gazette as rehearsals for the latest run got underway. “Six new people means a very fresh start, and they’re all amazing musicians and actors, so we’re flying through it. Brian Gilligan who’s playing Guy has a lovely quality in that role, which is great. It’s a difficult play to cast, because a lot of the cast – as well  as being really stand out actors – have to be great singers and guitar players, and it’s difficult to tick all those boxes. That makes Once special in its own way; this time around we have a really great cast.”

“Glen [Hansard] is the embodiment of someone who has worked so hard to get from the streets of Dublin to being idolised abroad,” Drew says of The Frames man’s role in the production, with Hansard having starred in the hit movie. “I went to see him play in Vicar Street recently and it was just stunning. It’s hard to produce something of that quality, but we’re doing everything we can to emulate it.”

Overpriced: How Ticket Touting is Pushing Out Irish Punters

A Face in the CrowdISSUES SURROUNDING TICKET RESALES are growing again in Dublin, as the highly-profitable secondary ticket market ramps up for the summer peak.

Ticket touting remains legal in Ireland, though Fine Gael TD Noel Rock recently put forward a motion looking to criminalise the resale of tickets at above their official price. Since his tabling of the bill earlier this year, Rock has received protesting submissions from the likes of the IDA, Ireland’s Foreign Direct Investment body. The IDA highlight the value of the companies leading the market – some of whom have Irish headquarters – to our economy.

For punters, though, this is a growing problem. Companies such as Viagogo and Seatwave (the latter a Ticketmaster-owned company whose resale options appear on the Ticketmaster website, highlighted once the original offering is sold out) are highly profitable agencies. Intentionally or otherwise, the companies seem to incentivise the buying of popular tickets for the explicit purpose of resale.

This is particularly prevalent with big-name gigs. A ticket for U2 in Croke Park this summer, for example, starts at €240 on Seatwave at the time of writing (face value €44), and goes up as high as €1,000 (face value €200). Ed Sheeran – who has personally spoken out against above face-value reselling this month on his Twitter account – has seen tickets for his 3Arena date listed at over €600 each (face value €77), while a ticket to Ireland’s potential Six Nations decider against England will set you back almost €1,200 after booking fees (face value €60).

In the case of J.Cole, whose 3Arena date sold out shortly after going on sale in late February, tickets were on Seatwave ahead of the show’s swift sell out. With such a quick turnaround allowed, and highly inflated prices, it’s hard to believe these tickets were not bought with profit in mind. In some cases, the reselling company stands to make more in resale fees than the total original ticket price.

Overhead, The Albatross. Savage.

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The Five Best Books I Read In 2016

I try to read a lot. In between the toddler, an often 60-hour working weeks and completing the first year of a degree course, I  somehow squeezed in about fifty books last year, taking in a pretty broad array of genres and directions. Since I’ve found most books don’t age particularly badly (in fact, aside from Kindle, most of my books are second-hand charity shop buys anyway), I figured these are every bit as appealing as the day they came out. There are a couple here I feel like I’ve recommended to various people a dozen plus times already, so I thought I’d throw down the highlights in a post. 

There are not – at least not necessarily – books released in 2016. They’re just the best ones I happened to read and feel like shouting about. There’s already another huge heap waiting to explore this year. Reading recommendations – especially based on the below – very much appreciated!

ready_player_one_coverReady Player One by Ernest Cline (link)

Set in twin worlds – a grim ‘real world’ future and the huge escapist fantasy of a virtual reality computer game – Ready Player One creates those two environments beautifully, and then uses them to explore ideas of equality and power, travel and personal virtues. Based on an extreme version of ‘Easter eggs’ – hidden extras added to computer games, movies and albums for diehard fans to uncover – the main character is a minnow in a virtual world as dominated by those with economic muscle as the real one. When the creator of the virtual world dies, this triggers a kind of treasure hunt that sees players compete to solve riddles and win ultimate control. The computer game aspect aside, it’s a slightly tired plot, but one delivered so well and through such nicely-rounded, anxiety-riddled characters that any predictable edge to the story doesn’t matter, especially when every key task on the journey is taxing and unpredictable. I’ve found a lot of these more conceptual books are more interesting in theory than in reality. This was a spectacular exception.