The Commitments – Milton Keynes Theatre

Writer: Roddy Doyle

Director: Caroline Jay Ranger 

Reviewer: Maggie Constable

For fantastic fun and a ‘whole lotta soul’ there is no better place to be this week than Milton Keynes Theatre to share in The Commitments musical direct from an incredibly successful two years in London theatreland where it has played to critical acclaim. The show is based on the much-loved BAFTA-winning film of the same name which was adapted by Roddy Doyle from his 1986 prize-winning novel. Doyle has also been similarly involved in the stage production.

The Commitments tells the story of Jimmy Rabbitte,  a young working-class music fan who somehow turns a rather unlikely and motley crew of amateur musicians into an amazing live soul band, the finest Dublin has ever produced. We follow the auditions and the setting up of the band as they come to know each other and to learn to play together, then through the rehearsals to the all-important first gig and beyond, with all that this entails. Sex, drugs (well, alcohol) and a rock n roll lifestyle. It’s all there. And the implosion at the end. The show features classic soul songs including I Heard It Through The GrapevineKnock On Wood, You Keep Me Hanging On and Mustang Sally. One cannot help but toe-tap and sing along.

Andrew Linnie, who started out in the role of Dean, takes on the central role of Jimmy Rabbitte and does a superb job all round. He is totally believable and brings out the real likeability of the character as well as his earnest yet naïve belief in his band and his love of music. Linnie has plenty of stage presence. It is, however, Brian Gilligan as lead singer Deco who holds the stage and encapsulates the whole story. What charisma and dynamism and an incredible soul voice. Gilligan clearly loves his work and his passion for singing those songs is unmistakable. He portrays the egoistic and nasty sides of Deco convincingly. His rendition of  Try A Little Tenderness towards the end of the show is enough to make the hairs stand up on the back of one’s neck.

Alex McMorran brings us Joey the Lips with all his pontifications and does so with a charm that suits the lascivious character, also bringing out the wry humour. A talented trumpet player as well. Kevin Kennedy, ex of Coronation Street, performs the role of ‘Jimmy’s Da’ (father) in a nicely understated way. The three Commitmentettes are played by Amy Penston, Leah Penston and Christina Tedders with energy and, yes, commitment. What great harmonies and each woman has an individually powerful voice and is fortunately given a chance to shine alone as well as in the trio. The acting from all three is spot on too. A solid supporting cast and excellent musicianship add to the whole.

The set, designed by Soutra Gilmour, is simple but very effective and evokes Dublin social housing as well as various other slightly seedy venues of the 80s. Gilmour is also responsible for the costumes, which work perfectly and very much depict the era.

Thirty years on this story still works well and the show moves at such a pace that the audience is veritably pulled along into the chaos of the band’s lives, enjoying the humour, the fun and most of all the soul music…. miss this one at your peril!

Runs until 5 November 2016 | Image: Johan Persson

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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