Irish Banter With Ballads - The Commitments
Phil Hopkins, Theatre & Travel Correspondent
As the somewhat raucous charm of the Irish swept into Bradford last night, it's fair to say that the uncertainty of Brexit has now reached the ears of the cast of The Commitments: "There will be food parcels on the way out for all the English," quipped one of the main protagonists at curtain down!
But if there was any uncertainty in the audience it didn't show, as an enthused gathering of Soul lovers - the show has toured on several previous occasions - made their West Yorkshire pilgrimage to listen to standards like Proud Mary, Papa Was A Rolling Stone, River Deep, Mountain High and a host of other 60's / 70's classics.
As I cautiously invited my 89-year-old mum to join me - she loves Hello Dolly and can't get enough of Gene Kelly - I cautiously gave my Mrs Brown advisory: "The language might be fecking awful (that's with an 'e' I'll have you know!) because it's set in Dublin in 1986.
And I wasn't wrong, however, the Irish have a way of swearing in their Southern brogue and, somehow, making it sound like an afternoon in the park with nanny. Mother was cautious about the lingo, despite insisting she was 'broad minded', but did concede, at the end, that there was plenty of rhythm, lots of enthusiasm and loads of tunes she knew. The Commitments; pensioner approved!
Personally, I wasn't too sure at the beginning - I've seen the film a couple of times but never the stage show - and thought this was going to be a bit like Thriller Live, another opportunity to string a load of songs together with an excuse for a knees-up. A juke box musical if you like.
And that is not entirely inaccurate, however, there is a story line, not the strongest in the world, and those tunes are, certainly, worth listening to when you have a young, vibrant cast with some excellent vocal anchors like Brian Gilligan as Deco, the egotistical sweet factory worker who fronts the band and thinks there is no one in the world quite like himself, bejabers!
This was a hugely demanding vocal role and it is no surprise that he alternates the part with Ben Morris, however, Gilligan was great as the sweaty, dishevelled and largely unwashed Deco, doing little to betray his opera roots.
Andrew Linnie as Jimmy is an authentic Dubliner who puts the 'the world's hardest working band' together, drawing on the experience of the libidinous Joey the Lips, aka Alex McMorran, a great trumpet player, but not averse to working his way through the female members of the band.....and I don't mean as a singing tutor!
The first half of the show is quite static in that it is largely set in a rehearsal room......laddish banter coupled with poor signing / instrument playing. They all improve, a few personality clashes ensue along with some petty jealousies, there's a bit of the other and, wham bam, a band emerges that the world loves. But it all ends in tears, The Commitments split and everyone goes their own way with a small happily-ever after feel good ending.
This is a show that will get you on your feet and that is not an entirely bad thing in these dreary times but, even though it is billed as 'The Smash West End Musical', I am sure that you could give that tag to any musical that has occupied a London theatre for a couple of years, as this one did.
All said, that does not diminish some great performances....the female band members, Natalie, Imelda and Bernie played by Amy Penston, Leah Penston and Christina Tedders. Great. And I loved Sam Fordham at Mickah, the on-the-edge skinhead dubiously employed as a gig doorman.....so on edge it was hard to take your eyes off him!
This was a fun show that will always be propelled by its music and, because the tunes that anchor The Commitments are so strong and so well known, people will always turn out for a night of unadulterated enthusiasm, and the promise of a feel-good injection to make the week seem that much little sweeter.
Until Saturday May 13th (2017)
Irish Banter With Ballads - The Commitments, 10th May 2017, 18:43 PM