Surely there cannot be a single one of us who hasn’t gotten up to have a sing and dance (motivated by drink or otherwise!) to one of these soul classics featured in this critically-acclaimed West End musical. Whether you’ve swayed to ‘Mustang Sally’ or jumped around to ‘Proud Mary’, you’ll soon recognise these popular musical numbers and may even be up on your feet dancing as the encore swings around.
The 1987 book by Roddy Doyle and the following movie version in 1991 meant that the confirmation of a musical adaptation in 2013 was met by already eager fans. If you are not acquainted with the storyline, The Commitments begins with an aspiring promoter named Jimmy (Andrew Linnie) who, after the failed attempts of his friends’ band, aspires to create a group to bring soul music to Dublin. After advertising in the paper, various comical hopefuls audition for the band, until Jimmy eventually has a group of unlikely amateurs naming themselves ‘The Commitments’. The musical follows the adventures, misadventures, highs and lows of these characters, employing the straightforward backstory as a platform to showcase a variety of musical hits.
”Once everyone was seated, however, the opening number of ‘Proud Mary’ quickly got everyone’s spirits back into a joyful mood with a powerful rendition by Kristina Paraskeva in an eye-catching red dress’’
On opening night, the foyer was full of audience members holding drinks, programmes and a desire to have a sing-a-long. However, the production started much later than anticipated, apparently due to ‘technical difficulties’. Once everyone was seated, however, the opening number of ‘Proud Mary’ quickly got everyone’s spirits back into a joyful mood with a powerful rendition by Kristina Paraskeva in an eye-catching red dress. Also instantly mesmerising was the ambitious set design by Soutra Gilmour, which cleverly captures a subtle vibrancy within the streets of 1987 Dublin, and works perfectly with the excited aspirations of the band.
”This is the location of a stream of hilarious band auditions that had the audience laughing along, but disappointingly the audience were offered a somewhat restricted view of the home as the set did not protrude fully onto the stage’’
Within the opening act, we are quickly transported to a domestic scene when Jimmy returns home with his friends/musicians, Outspan (Christian James) and Derek (Peter Mooney). A modest, working-class home is created convincingly with the (rather unfortunate!) furniture of the period, and Jimmy’s bedroom mirrors a music-obsessed teen with posters plastered upon the walls. This is the location of a stream of hilarious band auditions that had the audience laughing along, but disappointingly the audience were offered a somewhat restricted view of the home as the set did not protrude fully onto the stage. There were various other issues with the movement of set on-stage, with crew members being on-stage to move equipment and sets between scenes which, regrettably, slightly detracted from the spectacle of the show at times. However, speaking to a cast member after the show I was assured that this was not typical, and the vague excuse of ‘technical problems’ was further illuminated! Hopefully, then, such issues will not be present in the later productions at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal.
”Another highlight was certainly Sam Fordham’s humorous performance as the conflict-hungry bouncer Mickah, whose exaggerated portrayal of a Doc-Martened skinhead made for many funny moments’’
Undoubtedly, the show-stopper ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ at the end was the highlight of the performance, and had audience members on their feet in the stalls dancing along. Another highlight was certainly Sam Fordham’s humorous performance as the conflict-hungry bouncer Mickah, whose exaggerated portrayal of a Doc-Martened skinhead made for many funny moments. The first half of the show, however, seemed to lack crucial character development that effected the conclusion of the musical to one of mere tidy cyclicality and logical convenience. This was only saved by the talented musical performances that blossomed in the second-half.
The Commitments ticks all of the boxes of a West End musical, with fabulous musical performances all-round. If you’re a fan of soul and musicals, this is certainly the show for you! However, if you’re looking for something with better story and character development and that is less reliant on a set-list of crowd-pleasing songs, then you may not come out quite so satisfied!
6/10 – A promising work in progress
Image courtesy of The Theatre Royal
‘The Commitments’ runs at the Theatre Royal until Saturday 12th of November. For more information and to book tickets, see here