The Commitments at the Palace Theatre
It has taken 26 years to persuade Roddy Doyle to bring his hit 1987 novel to the stage, and after the roaring success of the 1991 film it seems an obvious (and potentially lucrative) transition. Sadly, although it is directed by Jamie Lloyd and adapted by Doyle himself, this tale of a raucous Dublin band – all sex, swagger and shouting matches – fails to live up to either.
Played by an endearing Denis Grindel, Jimmy Rabbitte is a young man on a mission to bring soul music to the working classes of 80s Dublin. Rife with unemployment and skyrocketing taxes when Doyle wrote the book, many young Dubliners were turning to music as a way to try and escape the grim realities of inner city poverty. In a time before manufactured pop music and the X Factor, there is a charmingly naive innocence to the whole enterprise, but despite having Doyle on board, this enthusiasm does not translate well to the stage. With an often repetitive storyline – Jimmy reminds the band that soul music is about sex on far too many occasions – and with nothing much at stake beyond Jimmy’s ill-formed dreams, the characters never really develop enough for the audience to feel that all the band in-fighting is justified or leading anywhere.
The songs are where the cast really comes alive though, and lead singer Deco (played by Killian Donnelly) is a true showman, especially when paired with Natalie (Stephanie McKeon) in their occasional fraught duets. A musical based around a band in rehearsal is surely never a strong place to start and the songs we do get, though well performed, are usually cut short. In fact, it is not until the end when we are given a full version of Try a Little Tenderness that we truly get to feel the power of the band’s performance.
While the entire cast clearly puts their heart and soul into it, there are very few standout characters beyond Joe Woolmer’s gangly and skittish Mickah. This however is mainly the fault of the script and direction of the piece, rather than the actors.
If The Commitments is going to succeed in the West End it will be down to the ever seductive nostalgia machine, because sadly it lacks the heart of Doyle’s novel and the politics of Alan Parker’s film.
Photos: Johan Persson
The Commitments is at the Palace Theatre until 23rd February 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.