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Once - Barn Theatre Review

Reviewed by Amelia Bascombe

Disclaimer: Ticket was gifted in return for honest review

After a sold out concert earlier this year, Once the Musical storms the Barn Theatre in Cirencester for a limited regional run. Having wanted tickets to the Palladium concert, staring Carrie Hope Fletcher and Jamie Muscato, I now can’t imagine what this show would’ve been like in such a large theatre. The Barn seems a perfect choice for this simplistic and understated musical, and emphasises the blossoming romance right in front of our eyes.

Tomas Wolstenholme and Sarah Moss. Photo by Alex Tabrizi

Taking on the title roles, Sarah Moss as ‘girl’ and Tomas Wolstenholme as ‘guy’ are incredibly captivating. Their chemistry is undeniable and excels in the intimate environment; you feel so engrossed in watching this relationship develop and change. If the whole play had just been scenes between them both, I still would’ve been happy.  ‘Falling Slowly’ is a highlight, of course, having won the Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 80th Academy Awards. I have loved the song for a long time, but never actually seen the film or the musical until now, and I can say that it’s even better witnessing it live. Although I didn’t expect it to come so early on, the reprise they did at the end was a lovely full circle moment.

Wolstenholme understudied the role in the original west end run at the Phoenix and you can tell he feels comfortable with the material. It’s always great to see someone step into the principal role that they have understudied in the past. He has a calm aura about him that works so well with the character, and bounces off Moss’ cold demeanour brilliantly. Moss embodies the character of ‘girl’ with so much gumption that we empathise with her each time she shies away from love. And their voices are just something else. They encapsulate the subtlety and raw emotion of each song, leaving the audience desperate for some kind of display of affection. It’s obvious the characters are in love which makes the conclusion even more heartbreaking, but I wont spoil it.

The rest of the cast doubled as actors and musicians beautifully, and each time a song began I anticipated the whole band joining in because they all sounded wonderful together. A special shout-out to David Shute, who  had some brilliant comedic moments as Billy. 

Sarah Moss and Tomas Wolstenholme. Photo by Alex Tabrizi
The musical is based on the film of the same name, written and directed in 2007 by John Carney. The music was written by the two leads, Glen Hansard and Mark√©ta Irglov√°, but it stills holds up 16 years later. The book for the musical was written by Enda Walsh and initially ran on Broadway in 2012. The Barn’s production takes a more modern approach to the show, and ditches the plaid shirts for a more rock and roll vibe. Director and choreographer Dominic Shaw triumphs here and the subtle choreography reminds me of Waitress by Lorin Latarro. It provides movement to back up the feelings of the performers and fits with the simple feel of this production.

The lighting design by James Smith is impactful, yet understated and is complimented well by the set and costume design from Sophia Pardon. ‘Guy’s’ guitar is the centre piece of the set and gives us a constant reminder of what the show is actually about. There are limited props such as microphone stands and the piano that ‘girl’ plays, and this simplicity works incredibly well. Furthermore, the use of the aisle to introduce characters and subsequently watch them leave was a welcomed addition, and allowed the audience to feel them walking away in a more emotional sense.

The Barn Theatre itself is a beautiful venue, and provides a lovely escape and change from the business of West End. It was so nice to be in a smaller venue and get to experience something so intense and intimate. I would highly recommend you see this production before it closes, and witness the magic yourself. 

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Once the Musical runs at the Barn Theatre in Cirencester until the 12th of August. Tickets are available from

Photo by Alex Tabrizi

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