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The Commitments review

West End smash hit The Commitments is at Leeds Grand Theatre this week. Based on the book by Roddy Doyle, the jukebox musical follows the dreams of a group of young Dubliners who attempt to forge a band in the grim, grey dampness of mid-Eighties Ireland.

Popularised by the 1991 movie adaptation, this new musical version for stage premiered in 2013 at London’s Palace Theatre. Celebrated for showcasing a string of soul hits against a gritty suburban backdrop, The Commitments is a lively and charismatic show which begins as a kitchen sink comedy and escalates into a bombastic, knock-your-socks-off concert.

Forty-two soul classics are showcased throughout, including hits from Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin. Adopting soul legends as their inspiration, the newly-formed Commitments jam together in pubs and clubs, and during early rehearsals they systematically murder songs with bad technique.

Part of the genius of the show is tracing the band’s embryonic formation, born through desperation and forged through lofty desires for greatness. As the band’s skills are refined, the musical numbers grow in ambition and scale. Yet as their talents reach greater heights, egos inevitably inflate to dramatic effect. A realistic account of creative jealousy, infighting and love triangles, The Commitments is as much about creative collaboration as it is about growing up and finding a voice and identity.

Andrew Linnie and Kevin Kennedy in The Commitments. Photo: Johan Persson.
Andrew Linnie and Kevin Kennedy in The Commitments. Photo: Johan Persson.

The show is built around exceptional music, headed up by a multi-skilled cast. Brian Gilligan showcases an outstanding vocal talent as lead singer Deco, proving to be an unstoppable force in the final numbers. John Bonner as Joey ‘The Lips’ provides plenty of blasting brass next to Padraig Dooney on Sax. John Currivan also delivers an impulsive, relentlessly wild performance on drums. Shoring up the vocal landscape are a trio of girls who sing and dance with a great onstage chemistry. The outstanding list of well-known hits certainly fuels engagement for the show, with the final rendition of Try A Little Tenderness ensuring that audiences will be pulled up out of their seats.

Dramatic interludes are rapid, offering a cinematic feel on stage with swift transitions between highly detailed, lived-in sets. The street settings, interiors of pubs and back-to-back terraces feel wholly authentic to the time, housing an ensemble of shabby characters who breathe life into a desperate era. In wholly dramatic roles, Kevin Kennedy is an acerbic and grubby delight as Jimmy’s Da. Andrew Linnie provides inspirational gravitas and drive as Jimmy, the band’s visionary manager. In a scene-stealing routine, Sam Fordham is hilariously aggressive as an in-your-face skin head.

The Commitments is a soul-filled odyssey about young people finding their identity through the music of a previous generation. It’s a passionate and occasionally brutal depiction of frustrated youths chasing their dreams in the depression of the mid-Eighties. Boisterous, upbeat and top-tappingly good, this well-devised production sings with heart, soul and a little tenderness. It is a musical which grows before your eyes, transitioning from black comedy to glittering concert, whilst fully committed to raising the roof off every theatre.

Cast: Alex McMorran, Christian James, John Currivan, Padraig Dooney, Rhys Whitfield, Sam Fordham, Leah Penston, Amy Penston, Christina Tedders, Ben Morris. Director: Caroline Jay Ranger Writer: Roddy Doyle Theatre: Leeds Grand Theatre Duration: 150 minutes Dates: Monday 5th – Saturday 10th December 2016.

Samuel Payne
Samuel Paynehttp://samuelpayne.weebly.com
Reviewer of Theatre in the North, including releases of classic film and television.

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