The Commitments – Review – Bradford Alhambra
The Commitments – Review
Bradford Alhambra, May 2017
by Jethro Pope
The Commitments returns to Yorkshire on the final leg of a successful UK tour – and I’m sure the company couldn’t have wished to be finishing anywhere else. Bradford’s audience lap up this hit show’s heady mix of energy and fun from it’s mostly young cast and musicians.
Based on the film of the same name, The Commitments is set in 80’s Dublin. Jimmy (Andrew Linnie) is a pro worker, socialist thinking idealist working in a sweet factory. He believes that soul is the music of the people, so he forms a band featuring his mates and some unlikely characters. There’s Deco (Brian Gilligan), a buffoon with no social skills but an amazing singing voice; a sax player (Paidraig Dooney), a drummer (John Currivan), a pianist (Sam Fordham) guitarists (Christian James and Peter Mooney) and a trumpet player (Alex McMorran as Joey The Lips). Add three backing vocalists (Amy Penston, Leah Penston and Christina Tedders) and, in Jimmy’s own words, the hardest working class band forms.
“Absolutely hilarious at times”
As the show’s writer, Roddy Doyle, who also co-wrote the film script, has created young, Dublin characters that epitomise the struggles of the working class in the eighties. They’re funny, super talented but have little chance of making it big time – especially when the biggest gig they get to play is the local bingo hall. In the second act, an A&R man from a Dublin-based record label, the aptly named Eejit Records, sees potential in the band and wants to sign them up for a one single contract. But, just as we think that will be the big break they deserve, the band all fall out. And that is the end of the show. Literally.
The plot is by far the show’s major, and only, weakness. There’s no real dramatic arc or jeopardy. It’s just a bunch of kids forming a band and then breaking up. I would have liked to have seen a bit more politics and struggle injected into Doyle’s script, especially with Jimmy’s character. It’s all very fun – in fact, it’s absolutely hilarious at times – but there’s no real depth.
What the show does have though is plenty of soul. Deep soul, southern Soul, blue-eyed soul, Motown soul (heck, it’s a surprise they don’t throw in some Dover sole). The band play songs from Aretha Franklin to Stevie Wonder, like they were the original artists. It’s like watching a Commitments concert (with the odd appearance from Kevin Kennedy, AKA Curly from Corrie).
“Just sit back and enjoy the brilliantly performed songs”
And what makes this show differ from more traditional musicals is that it’s more like a play with songs. When the band are singing, it’s part of a performance within a performance rather than, as with lesser contemporary musicals, when the songs are telling the story. It’s very typical of modern musicals and is definitely a way to attract more audiences who aren’t particularly persuaded by the more traditional “I’m-in-love-so-I’ll-tell-everyone-by-singing-from-a-roof-top” style.
The cast and musicians (for in this they’re one and the same) are fantastic. Gilligan as Deco is the standout performance. His voice is the epitome of soul. He has the body of a lorry driver but the voice of Marvin Gaye. And as Jimmy, Linnie is good – but I feel could have had a bigger dramatic role. I wanted to root for these characters, but the script doesn’t really allow it. So instead, you just have to sit back (although with so much energy that will be hard) and enjoy the brilliantly performed songs.
It’s apt that we have a general election around the corner, because as Jimmy say, soul is democracy at work. If The Commitments were standing, they’d certainly get my vote.
images: Johann Persson