The Commitments at New Wimbledon Theatre
The Commitments is based on the book by Roddy Doyle, which was turned into a film in 1991. It hit the West End for 2 years and after a gap it is back touring the country. It iss a musical that celebrates soul music. Set in in Dublin we meet Jimmy, a young man who wants to put together a soul band. He finds a group of amateur musicians and the show charts their practises, their friendships and their newly found success just before the inevitable happens.
The shows focus is on the music and throughout the show we are treated to songs such as Proud Mary, Mustang Sally and River Deep Mountain High. Not only is the focus of the show about performing these soul songs but in talking about music, talking about what soul means to them, why jazz goes against what they stand for and with a huge amount of iconic soul musicians referenced. The performances of the musical numbers tend to be in context, i.e. at a practise or performance. These numbers are performed brilliantly all elements of the band, from vocals to drums and from keys to saxophone creating outstanding musical numbers. The only slight issue is that due to the majority of the numbers being either in practise or performance the show feels slightly formulaic and it was enjoyable when the odd number cropped up outside of this setting.
The show is one of 2 halves both literally and in the book. The first act is packed full of story about how the band came together and getting to know the personalities behind it but act 2 seems to forgo this. There is a focus on The Commitments performance aspect but this is to the detriment of the story and the unravelling of the group happens very quickly and with not enough reaction from the members within it.
The cast in this show are exceptionally talented. The band is fronted by Deco, played by Ian McIntosh and due to how much praise his vocals get in the show it is important to find someone that lives up to this praise and with casting McIntosh they have got it spot on. His vocals are flawless and I watched in wonder how he managed to sound so good whilst eating chips on stage! The other vocalists of the group are Imelda played by Ciara Mackey, Natalie played by Eve Kitchingman and Bernie played Sarah Gardiner. When Jimmy sets up the band he gets asked if the girls can sing and whilst he confesses he is unsure….I can confirm that they can not only sing but they can blow the roof off the theatre. They were not only all strong individually when fronting numbers but when harmonising or providing backing vocals their vocals blended beautifully.
The band however isn’t just full of singers and we were treated to an array of talent with actor musicians such as Billy, played by Ryan Kelly on the drums, Dean, played by Conor Litten on sax, Joey the lips played by Stuart Reid on trumpet and many more. Each of the band were great musicians in their own right but also wonderful performers.
I must also mention Jimmy, played by James Killeen who is the brains behind the band. He had bundles of charisma about him and his character had an air of ease in authority. It was therefore easy to buy into the fact that Jimmy had masterminded the group and was the one holding them together.
The set was clever with the back wall of the set forming parts of Jimmys house and opening in on itself to reflect the interior or the exterior depending on what was needed and simple changes allowed the audience to be transported from the community hall to Joey’s garage swiftly.
Having attended the show with an Irish friend of mine I feel I would be remiss not to reference the setting of the show further. Set in Dublin the cast are therefore tasked with having strong Irish accents throughout but not only did they sound spot on to my English ears but my companion gave them his seal of approval. There was also great attention to detail such as the crisps that were being eaten during one of the numbers are crisps only available in Ireland and the Irish slang was used just enough for it to sound authentic at the same time as allowing an audience in Wimbledon to understand what was happening.
The Commitments is a show for music lovers. If you can overlook a weak plot in places it is a show to enjoy for the concert vibe, some good humour and some incredible musicianship.
The Commitments is playing at New Wimbledon Theatre until 14th January and continues its tour from there. You can find out more about the show on their website.