Based on his 1987 novel, the first of the Barrytown trilogy and later made into a much-lauded film in 1991. Roddy Doyle has adapted his own work for the stage production of The Commitments, the tale of a group of unemployed friends from a council estate on the north side of Dublin who, in an attempt to escape their less-than-fortunate circumstances, start a soul band.
The film was an immediate attention grabber, the stage show is more of a slow burn, the first half hour while thoroughly amusing, lacks a bit of punch and doesn’t do much to build the characters back story enough to make us really, really care for them and throughout the plot remains paper thin. The characters and the story-line both need beefing up, the raw material is all there in the original novel, a vivid and humorous portrayal of the social decay that lies behind the picture-postcard streets of tourist Dublin, so it’s slightly bemusing why its creator has chosen the path he has in his adaptation. That said, by the end, this turns into a genuinely entertaining, irresistible, crowd-pleaser of a show. For all its faults it’s hard not to love absolutely.
The heart and soul of the show (and indeed the book and the film) are the ragbag “hardest working band in the world”, and the disparate characters that make it up, and the cast, (almost all actor/musicians) are faultless to a man. Brian Gilligan is the egotistical, arrogant front-man Deco (Gilligan originally playing the role of drummer Billy ‘The Animal’ Mooney in the West End production, was overheard singing to himself in the stairwell at the Palace Theatre and subsequently cast as the lead Deco a few weeks later). In possession of a voice that is utterly glorious, with a tone to die for, the only crime is that most of the songs are frustratingly cut short, and the audience never gets to hear as much of the music or Gilligan’s astounding voice as they might want until the closing moments of the show. When Gilligan and the band get a chance to shine, in Try a Little Tenderness, Mustang Sally and the gorgeous Thin Line Between Love and Hate, they create genuine ‘hair standing up on the back of your neck’ moments.
TV veteran Kevin Kennedy delivers a solid turn as Mr Rabbitte Snr, even if the accent is a bit on the dodgy side. Andrew Linnie, another veteran of the West End production is band creator and manager Jimmy Rabbitte. Linnie’s laconic portrayal is perfectly judged and plays well alongside the madness surrounding him.
Both Doyle’s original novel and the later film, capture a time of economic and social strife (not unlike today, but with less cynicism and less media savvy). High art it never was, but it had something to say for itself. Ground-breaking and gritty this musical isn’t, but it sure as hell has soulful music by the bucket-load. There are over 20 tunes, ranging from full-length songs to snippets from countless other classics. For a night of truly entertaining, undemanding, escapist fun, it comes highly recommended. Go for the utterly fabulous cast, the fantastic music and a plain old good time.
Runs until 30 December 2016 | Image: Johan Persson