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The Commitments

Roddy Doyle

Phil McIntyre Events

Liverpool Empire, April 17-22, 2023; 2 hrs 20 mins

(also Blackpool Opera House, May 1-6; Venue Cymru Llandudno, May 29-June 3, Manchester Opera House, June 5-10; Leeds Grand, June 19-24)

The band in action in The Commitments. All pics: Ellie Kurttz
The band in action in The Commitments. All pics: Ellie Kurttz

The Commitments is a timeless movie with music at its heart. It’s also an astute work of social realism depicting poverty, drugs and depravation in 1980s Dublin. The show retains the centrality of soul in terms of the music, but lightens the message of the film – and arguably, the impact.

While writer Roddy Doyle – whose original book in 1987 captured the noise, the life and the fleeting hopes of Dublin youth – might have lost some artistic control over the movie, he has retained the rights to the stage show and is thoroughly enjoying the resurgence of his characters on stage.

And good on him: for those who want to read the programme, he offers a pretty comprehensive account of the journey of The Commitments from page to screen to stage. "The hardest working band in the world" certainly seems to fit the bill for the reach of this story.

Tonight the mostly Irish cast of actor-musicians is grand, and the music speaks to us throughout. We feel their initial despondence, their hope as our man Jimmy Rabbitte (James Killeen) puts the band together, and their joy as gradually they near professionalism – not through any great musical experience but because they’ve got soul, Jimmy tells us. Grit comes from hardship, and the music of the people comes from that grit. Soul is enough to carry them through.

It’s magical thinking of course, but it’s a great story and it nearly works. There are some incredible voices that make us hope against hope that this band could really be something. James Deegan gives us his all as Deco, and Ciara MacKey, Eve Kitchingman and Sarah Gardiner as the girls Imelda, Natalie and Bernie out-sing the original movie cast.

It’s an ensemble piece, in which the lead character is really the music, to the extent that when the story that we already knew, tweaked and truncated from the original, is done, all pretensions of plot laid aside, we’re invited to stand up, hear those great songs, sing along and just enjoy the soul.

For those who are interested in processes of adaptation, it does OK, and it is what it is – a stage show about a band with some incredible performances. It doesn’t do the nuance of literature or even film, but there are moments that the stage show occupies and makes all its own. And, at the end of the day, there’s nothing like live music.

All in all, a grand night out – for anyone with soul.

More info and tickets here


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