MusicalNorth East & YorkshireReview

The Commitments – The Grand, Leeds

Writer: Roddy Doyle
Music Arranger: Alan Williams
Director: Caroline Jay Ranger
Choreographer: Ann Yee
Reviewer: Sue Collier

It is often tempting to compare the outcome of a stage show to a book or film of the same story. It would be somewhat unwise to try to compare this musical stage show to the well received 1991 film The Commitments, in which director Alan Parker successfully portrays the disenfranchisement of youth and the barren economic and socially difficult life in Dublin during the late 1980s.

This production of The Commitments lacks an interesting and engaging story and we only briefly learn of Jimmy Rabbite’s attempt to put together the “hardest working band in Dublin” and of its inevitable acrimonious collapse. The raw material is there, but the narrative needs more flow and feels somewhat underdeveloped.

The Dublin stage setting does, however, produce a strong sense of the era, when a Dublin teenager’s social life was based around the pub and community in which they grew up. The costumes are of the period and we are reminded of the days before technology ruled the world.

Without having seen the 1991 film, it would be difficult to understand the intention of the narrative within a show, and the production feels more like a platform for giving a lively musical performance of a number of popular soul classics.

In addition to the rather thin plot, it is also somewhat difficult to engage with many of the main characters. Kevin Kennedy plays the role of Jimmy’s father, a character who adds little to the narrative and needs greater development to be of value to the overall storyline. At times the acting feels rushed, disorganised and chaotic, reminiscent of over-the-top pantomime characters.

The humour relies heavily on swearing and innuendo for laughs. At times, the dialogue seems unclear and the ending abrupt; it denies a sense of any time span having passed. The role of obnoxious front man Deco is played with plenty of energy and enthusiasm by Brian Gilligan. He provides humour and a poignant demonstration of how the progress of a band can be destroyed by one individual believing that they are more important.

This show is really all about the music and it would benefit from being more honestly presented as a concert, rather than as a musical play. The cast is, without a doubt, a group of enthusiastic musical performers. There are great songs, sometimes performed well, sometimes pitchy. There is little light and shade within the music, which often presents as brash, lacking in tone and emotion.

The best part of the show is the finale, a performance of four or five classic soul numbers, during which the cast begins to interact with the audience by inviting them to their feet and enjoy the music. Without standing, it is impossible to see the remainder of the performance and gives a false sense of the show receiving a standing ovation.

Despite the potential, this performance of The Commitments sadly fails to deliver and is unmemorable. An evening could be better spent by staying at home and listening to the classic CD of the Alan Parker film.

Runs until 10 December 2016 | Image: Johan Persson

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