The Commitments tries very hard to be more than just a jukebox musical but is most successful when it succumbs and celebrates being exactly that. Coarse, but not very gritty, chaotic, but not very detailed, the show does not take full advantage of the form’s potential or of the insanely talented band and cast at its disposal. Unsure of itself, this stage adaptation of Roddy Doyle’s novel teases its soul-hungry crowd, failing to deliver the joyous satisfaction of a complete song until well into the second act. Because the exposition-heavy first act is so f**ing full of such f**king foul language, used at every f**king opportunity, and because every line is delivered so emphatically with a super-charged sense of urgency, the script is often hard to listen to and even f**ing harder to connect with. You get the point.
And The Commitments is a story that we should connect with. You need only watch X-Factor or Britain’s Got Talent to realise how endeared the public are by the discovery of extraordinary talent in ordinary places. Songs kindle memories and audiences share in the consequent reverie of their live revival, especially when performed by a group of underdogs. The formula has proven itself time and time again, but here, “the hardest working band in the world,” are trying just a little too hard; it is not until the story’s close that (following some “I can’t hear you!” encouragement) we are summoned to our feet for a long awaited dance.
On a more positive note, Killian Donnelly, as the band’s lead singer Deco, gives a performance that fuses the comic with the infuriating and the repulsive with the loveable. Donnelly demonstrates extreme vocal versatility, taking the roof off with every song and sounding good even when nonchalantly scoffing chips. In answer to the show’s question, yes, socially inept, obnoxious, scruffy, volatile Deco really does have soul. The same can be said for Stephanie McKeon as Natalie. It is a rare pleasure to witness two exceptionally talented singers grapple for the microphone.
My middle-aged father summed it up beautifully: “I’d pay to hear that band play music, and if they took out all the chatting nonsense, I’d recommend it to everyone I know.”
*** (3 stars)
Booking until 26th January 2014