Review: The Commitments, Palace Theatre, Manchester
It’s unlike me to be picky or to sound even vaguely like a music bore, but it doesn’t reflect well on any production when the programme is full of all sorts of howlers.
Setting aside the blithe assertion that ‘soul is the marriage of gospel, rock ’n’ roll and the blues’ or its beneath simplistic ‘sub-genres of soul’ paragraphs, where, for instance, Harry Connick Jr is mentioned ahead of Allen Toussaint, how can the notes on Roddy Doyle, a pretty well-known writer after all, refer to his book The Guts as a future project when it has been available since 2013? I’m sure Don Covay’s legal representatives will also be interested in the idea that he wrote Proud Mary alongside John Fogerty.
Enough, though, as it’s unfair of me to suggest that The Commitments itself, primarily inspired by Alan Parker’s 1991 film version of Doyle’s book, isn’t an energetic and thoroughly enjoyable evening.
Set in impoverished 80s Dublin with a soundtrack of some peerless 60s R ’n’ B plus a smidgen of politics, and built around the lively, funny characters Doyle created, it could hardly be otherwise. The basic story of how idealistic Jimmy Rabbitte moulds a stirring soul band from the generally unpromising material available on his North Dublin estate, only to fall foul of a low-level version of the usual rock-biz malarkey, not helped by the lecherous activities of a middle-aged trumpeter of dubious provenance, survives well in this new version, as does much of the ribald humour.
There are terrific performances to be found here, even if the characters are somewhat reduced to stereotypes. Amy Penston, Leah Penston and Christina Tedders struck me as particularly excellent in their relatively unshowy parts as the factory-girls-turned-sexy-singers who won’t take shit from any of the boys in the band. But this really is an ensemble show, to resort to an over-used critical get-out. Andrew Linnie’s Jimmy has to hold not just the band but the show itself together, while Kevin Kennedy as his Da adds a finely judged note of humorous scepticism to proceedings. Brian Gilligan is convincingly ghastly as talented but unimaginative front man Deco, with Sam Fordham as a scarily manic Mickah, and a necessarily much more controlled performance from Alex McMorran as the bawdy bugler Jimmy The Lips.
But the show is undermined by its hurry to get to the next classic song lest it lose an audience who are simply expecting a feel-good singalong show. The post-curtain mini-concert, however musically enjoyable it may be, is the sort of overdone cheap trick designed to pander to exactly that modern demographic.
Still, you’d be hard put not to enjoy a show that really does have soul – however you might define that.
By Kevin Bourke, Theatre Editor
Main image: The Commitments by Johan Persson
The Commitments is at the Palace Theatre in Manchester until April 8, 2017. For more information, click here.
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Supported by funding from @HeritageFundUK, Betty’s Back! will explore James’s life and works in the context of the 1920s, when the portrait was painted, and will also reveal artwork by Betty Durden Green for the first time.