Saturday 22 October 2016

Stage: Falling slowly for the myriad charms of 'Once'

Maggie Armstrong

Published 21/06/2015 | 02:30

Tom Parsons as Guy and Megan Riordan as Girl in Once. Photo: Matt Crockett
Tom Parsons as Guy and Megan Riordan as Girl in Once. Photo: Matt Crockett
Enda Walsh

When Megan Riordan walked on stage to meet her co-star in Once, it proved all too much. "So, I'm in The Phoenix. And I'm setting foot on stage. But the moment - the moment - my foot hits the stage, Tom starts playing 'Falling Slowly', and I burst into tears. I was just overwhelmed with all of it. The opportunity, how much I loved the music, how big the show is, the affect it's had."

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Megan comes from Las Vegas and lives in Dublin, where she acts, plays piano and sings. "In life," she says, "my nickname at parties became Massive Attack, because I would always be that drunk girl crying. They're like, Where's Megan? Where's Massive Attack?" How will she cope when Once opens in the Olympia? "I'll probably be a mess, I'll probably be overwhelmed."

Surely these tears mean something to you? Only the most icy-hearted cynic could begrudge Once its success. A low-budget film about a Dublin busker, with Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, who picked up an Oscar for their unmissably autobiographical love song 'Falling Slowly'; which was made into a Broadway musical (adapted by the perfect foil to syrupy sentimentality, Enda Walsh), and toured the world, winning eight Tony awards, two Oliviers and a Grammy; which is now "coming home" to Dublin. The rags-to-riches tale would bring a tear to the eye of a troll.

Once chronicles the life of the troubadour, a shambolic life which is rarely the stuff of musicals. We follow 'Guy' from his hapless busking routine on Grafton Street to his shabby single bed in a north Dublin house he shares with his father, a hoover repair man. Guy meets Girl from the Czech Republic, a hippy-dippy piano player who lives with a bunch of other Eastern Europeans in a ramshackle apartment.

The film came out in 2007 when Ireland was drowning in excess. But Guy and Girl were the bystanders to the Celtic Tiger, the street loiterers people threw coins to. Once exposed the crummy material circumstances of performers. There was no better insider to tell the story than Glen Hansard, a boy from Ballymun who left school at 13.

Glen Hansard strummed his guitar on Grafton Street before he formed The Frames. His background was as modest as his character's. This writer will never forget getting into a taxi on a snowy December night in 2007. The taxi driver, a larger than life character with bushy red hair, slipped into conversation that his son had just won an Oscar. "Is that so?" I had to doubt him. "What's his name then?" "Glen Hansard," he sing-songed, and I saw that his taxi licence indeed read 'Hansard'. He produced his phone with the screensaver showing a picture of he and Glen together. This proud father died not long afterwards. I imagine every fare that got into that taxi learned that his son had won an Oscar.

Glen Hansard's Once shoes, lately worn by Ronan Keating, are being filled by one Tom Parsons, a singer-songwriter who has had more luck in musical theatre than in music, and who is from Bristol, not Ballymun. "I'm bricking it. I'm genuinely bricking it. 'Hi, come to Dublin, and play the part of a north Dublin busker?' Don't be shit," says Tom. "I find it really hard to deal with the fact that I'm a raging narcissist. You always have to walk that balance between your crippling insecurities, and narcissistic grandiosity. You're doing it for the applause. If it's not good, I'll crawl under a rock and die."

Art, says this main man, imitates life in an unpleasant way. As a musician, he's had to scrabble to get by. "I've often thought, if I've to go and pour another pint for the same nob-head in the same bar I've been working in, I'm going to gauge my eye out with a lemon rinder."

Meanwhile Megan came to Trinity College to study and never left - for just the kind of reasons Once cashed into - "I fell in love with the culture here, and the music here, and the storytelling."

At Once, we might all be That Drunk Girl Crying.

Enda Walsh's addition of a pub to the stage where the audience can get up and buy drinks only compounds this possibility.

Once runs at the Olympia from July 4-August 22.

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