Review by Daz Gale
35 years after Roddy Doyle’s best-selling novel The Commitments was first published, the stage adaptation is back for the first time in five years for a new extensive tour of the UK and Ireland that was delayed for two years due to the pandemic. But was it worth hangin’ on for all this time or is the whole thing a bit soulless?
Based on the 1987 novel and 1991 film adaptation, The Commitments was first seen on stage in 2013 where it ran in the West End for over two years. Telling the story of Jimmy Rabbitte who assembles a bunch of amateur musicians into a soul music band who go on to take Dublin by storm. As their star rises, they have to battle group dynamics, creative differences, their own egos and of course the obligatory love interests.
The music used in The Commitments is full of classics from the 1950s and 60s – both soul and rock and roll numbers feature in a show where you’re never more than a minute away from the next instantly recognisable iconic number. The Rolling Stones, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner are just some of the legendary artists whose songs are used to further the story of the band.
The way the musical numbers are used are fairly generic, always in a performance either publicly or privately – this can lead to a bit of a repetitive narrative that can get old fast. Band rehearsal, dialogue, public performance, dialogue and so on… There is no doubt the performances themselves are top quality but if variety is the spice of life, the performance numbers here wouldn’t carry much of a kick. The use of a musical number to further the actual story along or to provide a bit of depth to the story would have gone a long way, but this never happens.
A group of highly talented performers have been assembled for this production of The Commitments. The always incredible Ian McIntosh gets another chance to show the range of his talent in a standout performance as Deco, showcasing his phenomenal vocal skills. James Killeen might not get much of an opportunity to sing, but he still manages to keep a commanding performance in a charismatic portrayal as Jimmy, while Coronation Street legend Nigel Pivaro gives a comedic masterclass as “Jimmy’s Da”.
The entire cast come together to provide strong talent consistently throughout with Ciara Mackey showing off a beautiful singing voice as Imelda, Stuart Reid delivering a brilliantly understated performance as Joey The Lips with Ronnie Yorke giving a performance that can never be described as understated but still fun to watch as Mickah.
It may have played one of the largest theatres in the West End when it was on, but for a touring production, the set design by Tim Blazdell is impressive in what it achieves. Unfolding out to transform the set from various venues into Jimmys home without moving much creates a show that is always interesting to watch visually. Direction from Andrew Linnie and movement from Jenny Sawyer ensures the action is never dull to witness, with a great use of lighting from Jason Taylor and sound from Rory Madden bringing the performances to life – though at times, the vocals in musical numbers were drowned out by the music.
As a story, The Commitments is a fun and harmless watch, but the writing can be wildly inconsistent. Though the writing is still by original book writer Roddy Doyle, I can only imagine it struggles to translate as well in this stage production with the story of the band coming together and ultimately falling apart seems to play out without any sense of urgency or even real purpose.
The second act struggles to recapture the momentum of the superior first act, with the moment the group split playing out too suddenly and unnaturally. And then it’s all over, seemingly all too quickly – leaving for an extended encore which is undoubtedly a lot of fun and a real highlight of the whole evening, but it leaves me wondering if the whole thing should have been staged as a concert and just lose the story altogether.
While I may not have adored The Commitments personally, there were plenty of things to like about this production. The wonderful cast and the truly iconic songbook were enough to create a pleasant night at the theatre. I would have liked a more substantial story as I struggled to find myself connecting with it at all, which is always a disappointment. For a story about a band bringing soul music to Dublin, this was a show that would have benefited by showing a lot more soul itself. Though at it’s heart, it was still a lot of unashamed fun.
The Commitments is on tour around the UK until July 2023. Full dates and tickets at thecommitmentsontour.co.uk
Photos by Ellie Kurttz