Writer: Roddy Doyle
Director: Andrew Linnie
In a week which has already seen Irish arts heralded at the Oscars, another of its exports, The Commitments, raises the roof as this rock and roll musical reaches Dartford’s Orchard Theatre as part of its UK Tour.
Roddy Doyle’s story sees wannabe music mogul Jimmy try to put together a rock and roll group made up of friends and acquaintances in Ireland in the late 1980s. The band, made up from a collection of edgy, awkward and angsty youngsters, battles internal conflict, creative differences and personality clashes as they look to be the next big thing. Doyle’s show makes use of soul and rock and roll classics, such as Ike and Tina Turner’s Proud Mary, to combine a superb soundtrack with a strong plot in what is a very impressive production.
James Killeen’s Jimmy is slick and desperate for stardom as the band begins to form. Killeen’s portrayal is often the straight man to the comedic chaos around him, but there is also some warmth and tenderness from the character too which results in a willingness from the audience for Jimmy’s plans for stardom to succeed. Jimmy is the glue who tries to hold the band together, and this is the same for Killeen who drives the piece forward.
In this performance, James Deegan steps in to perform as the band’s difficult frontman Deco. Deco’s incredible singing voice is contrasted by his difficult personality, which is the cause of much of the conflict for the band. Deegan’s control of the character, and his incredible voice, is the standout performance of the production with the plaudits and ovation taken at the end of the piece being much deserved. This production is particularly demanding for the performer of Deco, with the musical numbers sung ranging in style and genre, but it is a role that Deegan fills with aplomb.
Nigel Pivaro, most known for his work as the scheming Terry Duckworth in Coronation Street, is Jimmy’s Da in this production and clearly has a lot of fun in being the elder voice guiding and gently teasing his son on his quest for success. Pivaro’s portrayal is of a typical father whose musical tastes differ from his son’s, but this is done with warmth as Jimmy’s Da often provides the rock for Jimmy to lean on in his most challenging moments.
The production is also supported by a hugely impressive cast which make up the remainder of the band as well as the ensemble. This is a talented collection of individuals who create the unique cast of this show, drawing out the angst of being young in Ireland in the late 80s, and dealing with all the anxieties and aspirations that come with it. Notable mentions go to Stuart Reid’s Joey the Lips, whose preachy and predatorial elder statesman of the group brings some of the piece’s more surreal and amusing moments, and Ciara Mackey, whose character Imelda, the love interest of many of the group, including Jimmy, is teasingly compared to Yoko Ono as the band struggles to balance personal with professional conflicts.
The Commitments is a strong jukebox musical which draws heavily on the soul and mood of its music to tell a story which it balances humour with heart. Supported by an exceptional cast, this is a production that continues to feel fresh almost ten years since its London debut and a fantastic night out.
Runs until Saturday 18th March 2023 and continues to tour