The Commitments

Reviewer's rating

It started life as a novel in 1986, was made into a film in 1991, and was finally adapted for the stage in 2013.  Ten years after first opening to popular acclaim in the West End, this show is now on the road.

The eponymous Commitments are a band comprising guitar, bass, drums, piano, trumpet, saxophone and lead singer, all men, plus three girls as backing vocalists.  They are a motley crew of ill-assorted, potty-mouthed, plebeian Dubliners in the 1980s with dead-end jobs – if they have jobs at all – and with an idealistic manager who wants them to make something of themselves.  Sure enough, they do.  But there is a lot of arguing and quarrelling along the way.  Not surprising, with so many musicians in the band.  Successful rock bands with five, four or even three members (think Cream) nearly all fall out sooner or later.  With three girls included in this outfit, sex is bound to rear its ugly head, especially as copious “riding” is the declared aim of the male members, not just fame and fortune.  The manager has his work cut out coping with the personality clashes, and with the aggressive intrusions of a skinhead minder.

The picaresque vocabulary and distinctive accent of working-class Dubliners may be unfamiliar to some of the audience, but the earthy humour easily vaults over any language barriers.  Attempts by the manager to inject a note of seriousness into the proceedings are laughed to scorn by the rowdy musicians.  His insistence that soul music is the music of the people, and that it is as much to do with politics as with sex, definitely strikes a wrong note with these sceptical miscreants.

So what about the music?  The author, Roddy Doyle, chose `60s music – Motown and Memphis soul – because, as he puts it, “at the time, it felt timeless.  Thirty-five years later, I was right.”  Sure enough, he was.  In fact, never mind the plot and the ups and downs of the characters, they can be treated as intervals between a succession of outstanding live performances of all-time classics of the genre : hits by Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, The Four Tops, Aretha Franklin, Ike and Tina Turner, The Supremes …  The list goes on.  Indeed, you could treat this show more as a concert than a musical, and still say, with Stevie Wonder, that it’s Uptight (Everything’s Alright)!