How judgmental of me. I had passed the crimson banners of the Palace Theatre several times and never thought The Commitments could impress me. That was until I saw it and gosh, I was proven wrong.
Originally written as a book in 1987, it was turned into a film by director Alan Parker and fine-tuned for the West End stage by Jamie Lloyd in 2013. Many will be familiar with funky songs from Parker’s film including ‘Mustang Sally’, ‘In The Midnight Hour’ and ‘What Becomes of the Broken Hearted.’
What starts out as an exploration of Dublin’s young working class forming a soul band ends with a glitzy tribute concert – fifteen minutes of singing, synchronised clapping and dynamic interaction with the stage, cast and its musicians. Much credit is given to the orchestra even though we couldn’t see them, unfortunately.
But the soul music and feel-good factor aren’t the only things that grab the audience – it’s the realness of the storyline. Watch as the band doubt their musical abilities, contest over the spotlight and fight for the affection of the female backing singers.
The grit of Soutra Gilmour’s set design also plays a huge part in depicting where The Commitments are truly from. From the grey concrete council flats of Dublin, the tiny parent’s home of Jimmy, the local pub and pull-out rehearsal room, audiences are sucked into a journey of becoming the best soul band in Europe – ‘the blacks of Europe’.
The cast may go over-the-top with the word, ‘shite’ but this ties in nicely with a jam-packed script filled with Dublin accents, authenticity, wittiness and silliness. This is exceedingly well done with a passionate group of soul singers, which the audience gets tons of.
Yet what makes the night unforgettable is Brian Gilligan. He plays the role of the semi anti-hero, Deco. Gilligan’s astounding voice is paired with a picking-nose, self-absorbed Dublin Ace-Ventura, which make the audience feel torn. In its conclusion, however, the band comes together and all is forgiven. Gilligan’s voice raises the audience off their seat and gets them singing with him. He dances, runs and, even, gets undressed on the stage, singing to the slowest ballads ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ to the fast and zany songs including ‘Treat Her Right.’
Dennis Grindel elicits a charming and cunning Jimmy Rabbitte, the band’s manager, who has the eye on the prize and sings a little, but not enough. There’s an extra treat from Anthony Hunt as Joey, the professional and ‘older’ soul trumpet player who claims to have performed with American blues stars. His casanova character causes part of the friction between the band as he makes his advances on all three backing singers. The overall twenty-five cast members let out all the fire and soul of this touching story. Ann Yee’s choreography together with Alan Williams’ musical supervision adds in hints of the raw and a purposefully imperfect and addictive atmosphere.
If you’re looking for a serious musical with pathos turn away now, but if you’re looking to go home with a smile on your face from a fiery night of soul, hurry over to the Palace Theatre and be prepared for raucous talent, potty-mouthed Dubliners, comedy and all-round fun.
Review by Mary Nguyen
It started with a best-selling novel, and then an international hit movie that bred a chart-topping band. Now Roddy Doyle’s classic story about an assorted bunch of Irish kids who find salvation through soul music comes to the stage for the very first time.
More than two years to make, this energetic new musical take on The Commitments has been adapted from the novel by Booker Prize-winning author Doyle and is set to stimulate and inspire like it has never done before. Directed by Jamie Lloyd, whose recent success was the Trafalgar Studios production of Macbeth starring James McAvoy.
109-113 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, W1D 5AY
Evenings: Tuesday to Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees: Saturday and Sunday 3.00pm
Age Restrictions: Suitable for ages 12+