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Once as presented by The Odd Theatre Company

The Odd Theatre Company - Once the Musical

Riverbank Arts Centre, Newbridge

Performance Dates: 16th - 18th November 2023

Date of Adjudication: 17th November 2023

*Odd Theatre Company will be bringing 'Once' to the Dean Crowe Theatre in Athlone for one night only on March 16th 2024, Event details available here


Once is a musical based on the 2007 film of the same name by John Carney. The music and lyrics were by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. A Tale of Love, with a minimalist set and production, where the cast are the musicians, actors and singers. On reading the programme I found this to be immediately an interesting differential to the ‘norm’ if there is such a thing!

The Riverbank Arts Centre in Newbridge is a very large venue and, on this evening, as I drove up the Main Street in Newbridge, I was immediately impressed by this lovely modern building festooned with lighting and there was a lovely buzz in the Foyer when I arrived. Front of House seemed a bit chaotic on first glimpse, but I was looked after well and taken to my seat. I think a few more on duty at front of house wouldn’t have gone amiss however there was a distinct buzz around which I absolutely love preshow.

I took my seat and in doing so a group of musicians started playing on the stage – They were the cast treating us to a pre-show warm up. Again, something different! The Theatre was full, and I met several people I had met from previous shows prior to this so it was clear that there were avid followers in the audience of this society and of this particular Musical which had already piqued my interest.

Direction was by Mr Cian O’Dowd who also had responsibility for Co-Musical Director and played the part of Andrej (The Girls Flatmate), and accompanied on Accordion, Guitar, and Piano during the performance. Multitasking indeed. Mr O’Dowd is also Co-Founder of the Odd Theatre Company. As this musical is minimalistic in its production and all actors are on stage throughout the show as far as I could see, then I can appreciate that in depth work was done with the cast, in close liaison with choreography and music. Indeed, the programme stated that 4 months of intense rehearsal was required as actors have to also learn all the music. The set comprised of a wooden bar akin to a pub centre stage with wooden chairs for the cast who sit down once their scene is over and another starts. An acoustic piano, some tables and lamps completed the set. As mentioned, the cast are also the orchestra. Mr O’Dowd stuck closely to professional production staging of this show, and it worked well for an amateur production. Scene changes were subtle with lighting cues, or movement of the onstage set and introducing various props to indicate a new scene. It was very safe and assured direction.

Choreographer for the show was Ms Aine Foley. Choreography for this show is quite minimalistic. However, there were a few numbers which required some careful choreography as the cast had to dance sing and play their musical instruments. Not a very easy task but one that worked very well. Particular noting the finale OF Act 1 ‘GOLD’ which I really enjoyed, and it felt very natural and spontaneous. A sign of a cast in total control of their movement. Well Done Ms Foley.

Mr O’Dowd and Ms Keelin Kilduff were the Co Musical Directors. I liked the music in this production. This is not your normal straightforward musical as there is no traditional scene changes or Chorus or Orchestra rather each cast member plays an instrument – and all were gifted I may add. Ms Kilduff also had a part on stage as ‘Girl’ and played the piano whilst Mr O’Dowd as mentioned played three instruments and played the supporting part of Andrej. This group sounded beautiful together on stage and seemed to be very well rehearsed and a very strong bond exuded from the stage consistently. Musical Direction was very effective and, as there was no conductor or Orchestra, this Company needed to be very well rehearsed, and they were. What is different to most musicals that I see is that in this musical ALL the music had to be learnt off by heart- No musical score in sight. Bravo. As a group you are all so multi-talented. Given the huge number of songs in this production. With 30 numbers in total inclusive of scene changing musical fillers, the music and its overall quality really was a highlight for me.

Technically also this show was very good with excellent lighting by Anthony Quinn Brennan and Sound by Conor Wilkins – both areas were absolutely perfect and enhanced the show greatly. I can only commend you both on the huge impact both your areas reflected in such a positive way for this show. There were many lighting cues throughout as mentioned and the importance of them to highlight scene changes worked very well. The sound was very good throughout with not a word or note unheard. There was a magnificent sound from the piano, and it was played beautifully by Ms Keelin Kilduff. Very crisp and acoustically super. The cast moved all the props and sets themselves as part of the production onstage and in fact this was seamless and proved to be very effective.

Visually there was a lovely, homely atmosphere here on this stage and everyone was extremely comfortable with one another – a great bond was obvious to me in the audience between this small very happy and successful group and that was lovely to see. The cast looked great dressed in their appropriate clothing reflecting their lives and or job/status and I can only presume that they sourced the costumes themselves as there was no costuming credit in the programme. Well done cast, it worked.

Adam Trundle played the part and male lead of Guy (and also Guitar) in this performance. A born natural on stage I loved your character. No self- belief, low self-esteem, down in the dumps and living at home with your dad, a recent widow. But Guy loves music and you portrayed that brilliantly. With your guitar and your beautiful voice, you took us on your journey of melancholy loneliness, finding love, and your gift of music. ‘Leave ‘was the opening number of the show and it was super, “Falling Slowly” sung by Mr Trundle and Girl- Ms Kilduff was also so beautiful. “Say it to me now” was emotional and sung with great feeling. I must mention “Sleeping” in Act 2, which was so good. Bravo. A massive part, but you acted, sang, and made this part your own and I enjoyed every step of your performance. Well done.

Girl was played by Ms Keelin Kilduff who also played piano in this production and may I add – beautifully. Ms Kilduff was also Co-Musical Director as mentioned. Your portrayal of Girl with your clipped no nonsense shoots from the hip humour endeared me to you immensely. You brought Guy from a dark world to a brighter world with love and lovely vocals and talented musicianship on piano. It was clearly obvious that you took Guy from his lonely place to a place where warmth friendship family and love can all work in harmony together and you were a wonderful “Girl” with beautiful empathy towards Guy and eventually love. And especially for me, “When Your Mind’s Made Up” with Guy and the ensemble was one of the highlights of this show. Beautiful performance. Well done.

Billy was played by Daniel Ryan who again also played Cajon and Harmonica. A great part, full of life and fun and energy and Mr Ryan played this part brilliantly. There was an energy from you on stage that I loved and a professionalism that enveloped the stage each time you spoke. Loved your part. Loved what you created in Billy and in working with the others particularly throughout this show your character shone. Well done on this role Mr Ryan.

Shauna Maguire played the part of Reza – and played Violin for this performance. A great stage presence, you were a lovely Reza who played this part beautifully throughout you brought Reza to life with a simplicity and a talent, and I enjoyed your performance immensely.

Gearoid McGauran played the part of Bank Manager. What a great part and you made it yours. You lit up the stage each time you appeared, you have a marvellous stage presence, and you command attention such is the ability and charm to your acting in this performance. A great guitar player to boot. I particularly like the scene where you are with Guy & Girl where they are looking for a loan and then Boom! I get the feeling you enjoyed this role immensely and it showed. You transformed into a guitar playing macho man. You have wonderful comedic timing, and you had the audience in the palm of your hand. I looked forward to you coming on stage each time. “Abandoned In Bandon” was simply Class. Well done.

Da was played by Mr Conor Kilduff, also playing Guitar for this performance. A very talented gentleman and a stalwart of Theatre. There is no such thing as a small part and Mr Kilduff shone in this role. I loved this performance and wanted to see more of this gentleman on stage. Beautiful fluid movement and expertise and showed a vulnerability in his loneliness on the sad loss of his wife and coping with life without. A gorgeous relationship with his son, Guy and a stage presence and story that endeared me to you in this role. Well done.

Baruska was played by Ms Helena Begley. She was also on guitar and melodica. It was lovely to see such an instrument as the melodica being played and played beautifully. You are a very talented performer – super acting, vocals and of course the Melodica especially! An excellent performance by Ms Begley

As mentioned earlier the part of Andrej was played by Mr Cian O’Dowd who also Co musically directed and choreographed and played accordion, guitar and Piano. WOW! So many facets to deal with but you played this part well as the fast-food employee with big aspirations.

Mr Paul McCarrick played the part of Svec and again, also played Cajon and Mandolin. A lovely character with a big heart and again a vulnerability that made you like this young gentleman in this role immediately. I believe you loved this character of yours the character you created here and rightly so. You were an immense Svec. A great role that suited you.

Mr Mark Trundle played the part of Eamon and what a great role this is, made even better by Mr Trundle playing this part. This gentleman has a powerful stage presence and again also played the guitar superbly. There was a quietness about Mr Trundles performance that made the audience want to hear more. A magnificently and appropriately cast character, Mr Trundles small but full performance were one of the highlights of this show. Loved this gentleman. Well done.

Ex-Girlfriend is played by Ms Emma O’Dowd, who also plays instruments Bass Ukulele and Ukulele. A joy to watch on stage with a magnificent smile which would most certainly light up any stage if there was a power cut. What a lovely young lady, who has been part of this Society since its inception. Great stage presence and beautifully played. Never lose that infectious smile Ms O’Dowd. Bravo!

Emcee was played by Ms Aine Winter. Who also plays the flute throughout this show. A lovely stage presence and natural ability to act it was a joy to watch you on stage Ms Winter, and I do hope I will see you again soon on another stage. Well done.

The lovely Ivonka was played by Ms Alma Moynihan. A small but very important role for this young lady and perfected it beautifully. A natural on stage I do hope Ms Moynihan that you continue to be a part of musicals as long as you can as you have a special talent, and you are so young it really was a joy to watch you perform. Bravo!

As the cast mentioned above are also the ensemble the traditional musical chorus doesn’t really exist. Rather a tight knit sound when all performed together which sounded super throughout the theatre and I really enjoyed these moments where the cast got together to create wonderful moments. You were all so close and there is an obvious close bond that exuded from the stage and well done to you all as a super ensemble unit. Beautiful. Well done.

This was my first time seeing Once and, as part of this role as adjudicator, one will often adjudicate a show that is a change to the ‘norm’ if indeed there is one!. ONCE is certainly a change to the traditional musical that one expects but it was a night that I so thoroughly enjoyed. The simplicity of the production, the high-quality acting, singing and musicianship together with the quality of performances across the board made this musical a huge success and the audience reaction was indeed amazing. BRAVO.

I would encourage the reader to seek and go and see this show as it is not one that I would have chosen personally pre adjudicating this year but one that I am so glad came up.

A resounding success and congratulations to you all. You are an amazing strong and talented cast. Thank you again for making me feel so welcome after a long drive and it was a pleasure also to meet you all after the show. Keep going and loving every second because what is rare is beautiful. I hope you have many more years of success going forward. Well done all.

Caroline Daly Jones, Sullivan Adjudicator 2023/24

Some photos kindly provided by the society. Photographer: Liam Mullen

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If you missed our production of Once (or if you just want to see it again!) we're delighted to be bringing the show to Athlone for one night only - Saturday 16th March! Tickets on sale now here:

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