The Commitments was the first in the Barrytown Trilogy of books by Roddy Doyle and in 1991 was adapted and directed by Alan Parker and won four BAFTA awards including best film and best director.
The Commitments, a musical comedy drama tells the story of the rise and fall of ‘the hardest working band in the world’, and the story follows Jimmy Rabbitte, a young soul music aficionado living in Dublin who pulls together a group of working-class inexperienced musicians to form a soul band named "The Commitments".
Roddy Doyle has returned to the story of The Commitments in the guise of a stage musical production and the ‘Smash Hit West End Musical’ is now running at the Playhouse Edinburgh.
For those of us who remember the film with a fond nostalgia it is perhaps inevitable to compare the gritty realism of the Alan Parker film alongside this stage musical version of the story with its more bouncy, carefree and energetic musical entertainment serving.
It’s inevitable that the drama play second fiddle to the music in this stage version however the tensions and conflicts are handled throughout with great comic timing and physicality and much of the original film dialogue remains.
Kevin Kennedy (Coronation Street’s Curley Watts) is brilliant as Jimmy’s Da and provides some of the best comic moments and one-liners of the show whilst Jimmy (Andrew Linnie) auditions a rag bag of wannabe hopefuls at the front door of the family house.
The first half of the show carries the majority of the plot through a series of short comic scenes where the various members of the band are introduced. The staging provides the gritty urban backdrop for much of the action and is creatively adapted to facilitate the number of scene changes.
The main character Jimmy Rabbitte played by Andrew Linnie was originally part of the West End’s production ensemble and was required to step into the role when the actor playing Jimmy damaged his knee. Andrew has continued in the role of Jimmy to much acclaim and assuredly commands the central role around whom much of the drama takes place.
However it is the music that is the highlight of the show. It has to be said that the cast provide some fine renditions of classic soul and R+B numbers.
Brian Gilligan who plays Deco the Commitments front man has a fine set of pipes on him and is supported by three feisty female backing singers who all hold their own during a variety of solo numbers. All the numbers are delivered with great energy and faithfulness and sometimes-comic slapstick that never tips over the edge into corny. The songs come fast and furious in the second half and Gilligan’s’ rendition of Try a Little Tenderness is outstanding.
The second half of the show feels more like a live gig with the inevitable break up of the band and the drama a little lost amongst the energy provided by the live music.
The Commitments at the Playhouse Edinburgh is promoted as a ‘fantastically feel good celebration of soul’ and that is exactly what it is. The evening is topped of with an extended finale of a medley of classic soul numbers with Gilligan and the rest of the ensemble inviting the audience to join in and enjoy a series of memorable soul hits including (of course) the hit song released from the soundtrack of the film Mustang Sally!
Reviewed by Scott Wilkins