The Commitments – review

Palace, London
Roddy Doyle's adaptation of his own book can't quite decide between poignancy or pumping out the soul hits

Frenetic, exuberant and unashamed, this first staging of the Roddy Doyle book/film as a musical only disappoints if you're going to be Mr Picky O'Picky. Which I am.

There's virtually nothing to be faulted about the cast, the music or the glorious set. Soutra Gilmour has worked wonders with the strictures of the rotting old glory that is the Palace theatre, giving us a vaulting taste of the rain-streaked concrete of 1987 Dublin as the backdrop to the tribulations of an impoverished band trying to resurrect American soul; and musical supervisor Alan Williams can take many plaudits. The cast act their little grimy socks off: Denis Grindel is a lovely band manager, Jimmy Rabbitte; Steph McKeon has real chops for soul; and, of course, Killian Donnelly as the thoroughly unlikable Deco, unredeemed by the end but for his voice (which is to say, wholly redeemed), is the star of the show.

Yet niggling things seem to have run amiss. The first quarter-hour underwhelms. It was adapted by Doyle from his own book, but somehow Alan Parker's film version brought more nuance to the early character development, to the noisome scents of 1980s Dublin disillusionment reaching out to the poor of 1960s America. Personally, I can't get enough of that sweet soul music, but there were almost too many songs. And too much cross shouting to render it as intelligible as it needed to be: it was just too fecking busy and hurried, and possessed a little too much gratuitous swearing, a phrase I have seldom thought I'd write.

The second-half music is, nonetheless, worthy of a West End musical, if you've got any sugar in your soul. Try a Little Tenderness, the show-stopper, bore little resemblance to the Campbell/Connelly/Woods original written back in – get this – 1932, but was the most glorious rendition since that of Andrew Strong in the film, and thrillingly faithful down to the just-so rim-taps which herald the song proper. Thin Line Between Love and Hate was another highlight: as were the talents of so many young Dubliners. Ultimately, however, director Jamie Lloyd needed to decide whether he was telling a poignant and (small-p) political story, or just punting coins into a jukebox, and he didn't.

I wanted to be able to say "this one will ride and ride", as they say in Mustang-Sally Land, but this is Theatreland, and in 18 years there I never met a tourist with soul.


Euan Ferguson

The GuardianTramp

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