Roddy Doyle's all singing show brings the feckin' soul to London...
I've got a confession to make: I don't like musicals. I used to enjoy the pantomime as a kid, but musicals have never done it for me. I think I was put off these all-singing, all-dancing love-ins by my housemate at uni who frequently starred in loads and loads and loads of amateur productions. With this in mind, I entered the Palace Theatre, home of The Commitments full of trepidation.
Thankfully, within a minute of the show starting, the first 'feck' came through from the stage, closely followed by a lot more bad words. My fears dropped away like the bag of revels I'd just spilt on the floor. As the broad Irish swearing continued, a few old people in the front rows began to shuffle and glance about nervously. It was clear The Commitments was going to be a show like no other.
If you're not familiar with Roddy Doyle's novel (or the 1991 film adaptation), let me fill you in. The story focuses around a mismatched group of Dublin youngsters (and one auld fella) who come together to form a rag-tag group of musicians, known as The Commitments. Yes, yes, yes, ladies and gentlemen, they might just be the hardest working band in Ireland, but this doesn't stop all sorts of in-fighting, in-shagging and all sorts of ego trips.
The first part of the play is mainly concerned with how The Commitments became a band. It's a plot driven section, full of comedy and rowdy behaviour. The second half follows the fortunes of the band as a record deal looms on the horizon, and is mainly performance based. As you'd expect from a play about soul music, the relevant cultural touch stones are belted out in a grand old fashion.
Cast-wise, it's a strong affair with not a single disappointment amongst the young performers. There are highlights though, most notably Killian Donnelly, a veteran performer with turns in Les Mis and The Phantom of the Opera under his belt. Another highpoint is Ben Fox's performance as Joey 'The Lips' Fagan, a seemingly wise musician who claims to have played with The Beatles and guides band manager Jimmy Rabbitte through the highs and lows of band life.
While it is generally an all round impressive show, I have to say I was most impressed by the stage set. Looking at the stage you can imagine you're in a square or alley, surrounded by windows. Then, these windows come out onto the stage to reveal the rooms inside. Most notably, Jimmy's parent's house where his dad holds court, a broom within arms reach for when Jimmy turns that Otis Redding up a bit too loud.
All in all, it's a fantastic show, especially for people who don't like musicals. It's the story of a band struggling to be a band. Their struggles along the way are hilarious and when they finally make it and the pieces click into place, it's magnificent. As the last song blared out into the Palace Theatre, I found myself on my feet, clapping along and echoing the words of Jimmy Rabbitte, 'I wish I could feckin' sing'.