Once, Phoenix theatre, review: Boyzone's Ronan Keating melts hearts in his West End debut

The boyband member is equally matched by co-star Jill Winternitz

To describe any play as charming risks sounding luke-warm, but this much-garlanded musical has charm in abundance and that makes for a delightful evening.

Set largely in a Dublin pub, with almost every member of the cast singing and playing an instrument, the seemingly doomed love story between Irish songwriting lad and immigrant Czech mother manages to be both tender and refreshingly funny.

The new interest is the casting of Boyzone singer Ronan Keating as the male lead, making his West End stage debut. It feels patronising to boyband singers-turned-actors everywhere to say he is surprisingly good, so let’s rather say that he is highly effective in exuding a careworn melancholy that disguises loss. He captures the hearts of the audience seemingly effortlessly.

 

In this he is more than matched by Jill Winternitz as the Czech immigrant, whose mischief, flirtatiousness and disarming directness mask her own sadness. Her Czech flatmates who have learned English from TV soap operas -- “Good evening. What! She is pregnant and want to keep the baby!” -- are just one of many unexpected bonuses that bring a smile to the face in an evening that mixes comedy, music, sadness and romance with two heartwarming central performances.

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