MusicalNorth WestReview

The Commitments – Empire Theatre, Liverpool

Book: Roddy Doyle

Director: Caroline Jay Ranger

Reviewer: Matt Forrest

1987 saw the release of Roddy Doyle’s first novel The Commitments as a group of young working class Dubliners attempt to make it to ‘the big time’ by forming a band and trying to break away from the shackles of a Dublin in the midst of social and economic decline. The book had everything: passion, wit, heart and soul by the bucket loads. In 1991 director Alan Parker adapted the book into a film and created a global success. So it’s little wonder that The Commitments inevitably receives the musical treatment.

The stage version stays faithful to the source material as manager Jimmy (Andrew Linnie) assembles his rag-tag band that are going to take on the world. The stage version is filled with the humour, caustic dialogue and charm of the film version, however, gone are the more dramatic elements of the story as well any real character development. Rather than a look at the origins of the band and it’s inevitable demise we are treated to one set piece after another supported by a list of soul classics.

The cast are superb: Linnie is likeable and charming as Jimmy whose performance anchors the production. Brian Gilligan is on great form as Deco the arrogant frontman whose ego is at the root of the band’s problem. Gilligan has the voice to match his character’s arrogance and as such, does an excellent job on classics such as Proud Mary and Mustang Sally. In addition there are ‘The Commitmentettes’ Natalie, Imelda and Bernie (Played by Amy Penston, Leah Penston, and Christina Tedders) who more than hold their own with Gilligan in the vocal department. The band is constantly referred to as “the hardest working band” well this matched by one of the hardest working casts, who are clearly all having a ball and this shines through. Special praise must be giving to Sam Fordham as the psychotic bouncer-come-drummer Mickah who steals each scene he’s in.

Director Caroline Jay Ranger has done a fantastic job with the cast and certainly manages to capture the warmth and charm of the film version. There are some outstanding set pieces which include the hilarious audition sequences, and a superb version of Papa Was A Rolling Stone: that sees that bad at it’s very best and worst. The main problem is with the script. Very little has gone into character development that you don’t really care about them: Deco is a bit of a “prick” or that most of the band fancy Imelda but these are themes that are never really explored or looked at in any depth, which would certainly add substance and weight to the production and certainly allow you to care more about the fate of the band.

Overall The Commitments is a good fun night out. Those expecting a look at social and economic turmoil with a spot of social-realist drama should look elsewhere. However those wanting to see a fantastic cast belt out lots of soul classics which a great deal spirit then look no further. So what are you waiting for? Put on your dancing shoes, grab some booze and show the world you got soul.

Runs until the 21 January, 2017 | Image: Johan Persson

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