The Commitments – Review – Leeds Grand Theatre
By Christine Goode, June 2023
It is a party atmosphere as we arrive at beautiful Leeds Grand Theatre, and not just in the bar!
As we find our seats we see one lone party goer on stage, albeit somewhat worse for wear. He gets a second wind as the stage gradually fills with his workmates, the house lights gently fade and we are straight into the works Christmas do – lots of drinking, flirting and, of course, lots singing and dancing.
Originally a 1987 novel by Roddy Doyle, The Commitments was made into a film in 1991 and in 2013 the original stage show opened at the London Palace Theatre, where it ran for over two years. I remember going to see this one wet Sunday evening and coming away feeling uplifted and energised, so I was very excited to see this again 10 years later.
Set in the 80s, the music is classic 60s Motown and Memphis soul, with a hint of 80s thrown in for good measure. We meet Jimmy (James Killeen) who, with his friends Outspan (Michael Mahony) and Derek (Guy Freeman), and with the help of Joey ‘The Lips’ (Stuart Reid) – an older experienced musician – forms a soul band, The Commitments. This leads to many hilarious auditions until they find the perfect group. I love how we see the bare beginnings of the band coming together for the first time and singing ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’ in their thick Irish accents, until gradually they gain more confidence, let go and belt out songs such as; ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’, ‘Chain Of Fools’,’ Think’ and ‘Papa Was a Rolling Stone’.
Deco (Ben Morris), discovered at the Christmas party whilst belting out a number, is selected to be the lead singer of the band despite being hated by many members of the band, bringing soul and talent to the group. Morris is fantastic and plays his character perfectly, his indignation and tardiness is very convincing along with the humour and his amazing vocals, and my favourite ‘Try a Little Tenderness’. He has us in the palm of his hand, as he lures us into the song with a gentle soft and dreamy opening to a raucous, uplifting finale.
Jimmy’s Da (Nigel Pivaro) Coronation Street‘s very own Terry Duckworth, is brilliant. His ‘seen it all before’ character is both funny and caring. Imelda (Ciara Mackey), Natalie (Eve Kitchingman), Bernie (Sarah Gardiner) are the ‘Commitmentettes’ with vocals and harmonies to die for. They play strong, sassy women on a mission, with a no-nonsense approach to life in the band. The group’s hired security guard Mickah (Ronnie Yorke) with his skin head, bovver boots and bomber jacket is also hilarious. Playing an accomplished drummer, he has us all in stitches.
The design by Tim Blazdell is superb, changing from scene to scene with versatility. Lighting by Jason Taylor, skilfully takes us from rehearsal space to nightclub convincingly. The costumes are fabulously 80s and reflect a start up band with little money to spare. The script is brilliant and quite relatable, hence lots of laughter throughout the show. We are singing along with the cast, and at the end we are delighted for another four songs. By this time we are up on our feet, dancing, singing and clapping along to one of the best musicals I have seen for a long time.
‘The Commitments’ is at Leeds Grand until 24th June
images: Ellie Kurtz