Writer: Roddy Doyle
Director: Andrew Linnie
The Commitments is based on Roddy Doyle’s 1986 novel, but in truth, with 22 songs, mostly soul classics, performed in a two-hour span and some 20 named characters, there’s not much room for plot or character development. No matter: the music is intense, imaginatively produced and gloriously familiar.
The action begins at the club at Christmas time. From a deliberately slow start we move on to a chaotic version of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Proud Mary, one character after another taking up the song or succumbing to the drink. Deco does both – most impressively.
After this it’s the start of what become the Commitments. Outspan (Michael Mahony) and Derek (Guy Freeman) abandon their inept busking and turn to Jimmy for advice and assistance. A constant stream of willing, but hopeless, aspirants comes through his living room door; he remembers Deco from Christmas; the mysterious Joey the Lips (Stuart Reid) arrives from America, having played with everyone and breathing messianic zeal – which chimes well enough with Jimmy’s own social conscience.
Soon a ten-piece band is assembled and we’re away. Jimmy is the manager and has most of the coherent speeches in the play, arranging, organising, expounding the history of soul. The band gets better – each gig at a touch smarter place, in a touch smarter uniforms, playing with a touch more drive and cohesion – but at the same time the flaws develop in the band. Such minor distractions aside as a sax player who gets influenced by Charlie Parker, the main causes of the band splitting are two-fold, the fact that everyone falls for backing singer Imelda – and Deco’s attitude. With his arrogance and ever ready to walk out sullenness, he toys with auditioning for Eurovision and resents anyone sharing the limelight before precipitating the most unholy row in the band. End of story, but we’re finally treated to 20 minutes of The Commitments at their best, culminating in Try a Little Tenderness.
The non-singing, non-playing Jimmy Rabbitte gets a performance of understated authority from James Killeen and Nigel Pivaro is appropriately droll as his Da. Ciara Mackey, Eve Kitchingman and Sarah Gardiner, not over-stretched as actors, form a cracking trio of backing singers. Above all Ian McIntosh, a solitary survivor of the 2013 West End run, is terrific as Deco, with a superb soul voice and boundless energy.
Boundless energy is, in fact, the trademark of Andrew Linnie’s production. Against a background of Tim Blazdell’s design, with bar fronts and balconies of flats, nothing stays settled for long as the action swirls and leaps in an almost cartoon-like presentation.
Runs until 19th November 2022.