The Commitments

I’ve never sat in such an excited theatre audience. This is probably what all jukebox musicals’ audiences are like but I wouldn’t know because I’ve avoided ever going to one before.

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It’s my own fault, I just had very different expectations. I loved the Alan Parker film and I adored the trilogy of books that The Commitments was part of. Roddy Doyle could do no wrong in my eyes.

I’ve got a lot of time for director Jamie Lloyd. He’s done great things at Trafalgar Studios; I really enjoyed his Macbeth (despite the lukewarm reviews).

So I thought that this show would be a writ-large recreation of Doyle’s atmospheric, funny, heart-warming, heartbreaking microcosms of life. Instead, this was like a race to whip through the story, fit in the songs and get to the clap-along feel-good finale.

The staging is wonderfully clever, perfectly capturing the rain-soaked concrete blocks of Dublin and the various sticky-floored venues that the band plays in. But it’s never a good sign when the set is the star, is it?

The show is frantically paced from the beginning, fast cut like a soap opera. It moves so fast that they seem to forget to tell the story.

My displeasure was definitely not shared with the rest of the crowd. The woman next to me starting jigging in her seat from the opening scene; she was fit to burst by the time she recognised the tapping intro of “Try a Little Tenderness”.

Michael Smith

The story of a rag-tag group of acquaintances bringing Detroit soul to Dublin is a beautifully clever one, comically treated but layered with class-struggles, sectarianism and generational divides. It’s a political exposition with songs and gags. None of that comes through, there’s no warmth or depth (or shallowness) to the characters and the gags are missed as actors rush between set pieces. Even the door-slamming one-line interviews with prospective band members is ham-fisted in its execution.

My big problem is that you just don’t get a chance to understand the characters, everyone is ‘acting’ so hard and projecting their lines so clearly (in the tradition of a musical) that all the slight and shade and interplay is lost.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter, maybe that’s not what this show was ever going to be about. It is certainly very difficult to portray people who can’t play their instruments when the audience is appreciatively clapping every little skit.

My displeasure was definitely not shared with the rest of the crowd. The woman next to me starting jigging in her seat from the opening scene (a Depeche Mode covers band, playing in the window of a launderette); she was fit to burst by the time she recognised the tapping intro of “Try a Little Tenderness”.

At the end of the story the band has broken up and the characters should be on their way back to their dead-end factory jobs. But this is the glitzy West End so instead we were ‘treated’ to a full-on white dinner-suited reprise of another three hits. The cast seemed to revel in it, the audience loved it, I clapped along but couldn’t wait to get out.

This was a jukebox musical; I really don’t like jukebox musicals.

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