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The Commitments at The Churchill Theatre, Bromley

The Commitments started life back in 1987 as part of The Barrytown Trilogy of novels written by Roddy Doyle. Then in 1991 director Alan Parker got Doyle, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais to adapt the book into a screenplay which became a much-lauded movie which won four BAFTAs and an Oscar nomination. Then the next stage in the novel’s journey was to turn the story of these itinerant Dublin musicians into a full-blown stage musical which premiered in 2013 at the Palace Theatre running for just over two years before heading off on tour during 2016 and 2017. Now five years later after a delay due to covid, it’s back on the road again.

Previous Production - The Commitments - Credit Johan Persson
Previous Production – The Commitments – Credit Johan Persson.

The Commitments tells the story of Jimmy Rabitte (James Kileen) who has a mundane sales job for a sweets company and is bored out of his mind. He loves soul music from the sixties and dreams of forming a band to play that style of music. His Da (Nigel Pivaro) thinks he’s crazy but secretly wants his son to succeed. Jimmy already knows a couple of musicians who will form the basis of the band and starts scouring the city for musicians and singers, auditioning them at his house. Finally, one way or another a ten-piece band is formed including three girl backing singers and the band of misfits and miscreants becomes what Jimmy boasts “Is the hardest working band in the world”. We then follow the band as they rehearse together, play together, fight together and love together as they battle to get their music heard in the bingo halls and clubs around Dublin. Jimmy loves soul music and he hopes the city will too as he says “The Irish are the blacks of Europe. And Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. And the Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin. So, say it once and say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud”.

There’s very little plot in the show but the audience is carried along by the exuberance of the cast and the sound of some of the greatest soul songs of all time such as ‘Knock On Wood’, ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’, ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’ and ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’. These songs and many others like them formed the soundtrack to the lives of people of a certain age (who were in abundance in last night’s audience) and have become classics for the generations who followed them.

On Tim Blazdell’s very flexible set that has to be a pub, bingo hall, a nightclub, Jimmy’s house and a block of flats, all in the blink of an eye, the band all of whom play their own instruments, perform those great songs and many others superbly. The star of the show is lead singer Deco (Ian McIntosh) who has the vocal power to deliver those remarkable songs with great brio and charisma. He’s ably backed (and at times fronted) by a trio of superb singers, Imelda (Ciara Mackey), Bernie (Sarah Gardiner) and Natalie (Eve Kitchingham) who all get the chance to show what amazing soulful voices they have.

Although there’s a temptation to categorise The Commitments as a jukebox musical, it isn’t as it’s a very fine play with some pithy and witty dialogue from Doyle who adapted his novel for the book of the show, interspersed with some remarkable music. The songs aren’t bolted into the plot but played lovingly by the superb group of musicians and singers.

The show itself ends on a slightly downbeat note but the audience don’t leave the auditorium on a downer as after the curtain falls, the band return to play a short set that gets the audience up on their feet singing, clapping and dancing – their rendition of ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ is just magnificent. If the theatre could harness all the energy in the room at that moment, they could offset the increase in energy bills they’ll be facing in the next few months.

The Commitments is now setting off on a tour that lasts until next July and covers most of the UK. If you’re looking for a great night out that will give you a large dose of the much-needed feel-good factor, then don’t miss it.

5 Star Rating

Review by Alan Fitter

The Commitments received universal critical acclaim following its London World Premiere and was quickly hailed as a smash hit musical sensation. With over 20 soul classics performed live on stage including: Night Train, Try A Little Tenderness, River Deep, Mountain High, In The Midnight Hour, Papa Was A Rolling Stone, Save Me, Mustang Sally, I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Thin Line Between Love and Hate, Reach Out, Uptight, Knock On Wood, I Can’t Turn You Loose and more!

The Commitments musical has been adapted from the novel by Booker prize-winning author Roddy Doyle himself and is directed by Andrew Linnie.

The Commitments
The Smash hit West End Musical
Churchill Theatre, Bromley

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