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REVIEW: The Commitments at Theatre Royal Newcastle

The Commitments

Theatre Royal Newcastle

Until Saturday 1 July 2023

Roddy Doyle has adapted his iconic movie about a tempestuous soul band in 1980s Dublin into an entertaining stage show, packed with timeless songs, all brilliantly performed by a talented and energetic cast.

Alan Parker’s 1991 visualisation of Roddy Doyle’s novel was not just a film; it was an event. Its funny and inventive script and well-drawn characters merged effectively with classic soul tracks, memorably sung by Andrew Strong. It launched 2 best-selling albums that marked a rebirth of interest in the musical genre.

The story, here as in the film, tells of a working-class lad who sets out to create a band that can deliver timeless 60s soul to the people of Dublin. He puts together a great band but jealousy and the personalities in the band, particularly the hugely talented and equally obnoxious lead singer, constantly threaten to tear it apart.

This adaptation was created by Doyle in 2013. Bringing it to the stage has meant a longer running-time to make room for more musical numbers and this formidably talented cast make the most of them. Taking on the central role of Deco Cuffe, the brutish singer is an important and unenviable task, since most people will have a graphic memory of Strong’s original. James Deegan, however, is more than up to the challenge. He belts, growls and croons his way through the songs with gusto and delivers a highly effective characterisation. Unsurprisingly, the role is alternated with Ben Morris, since nobody could deliver 8 performances a week at such a high energy level and retain their voice.

The vocals aren’t restricted to Deco though and Ciara Mackey as Imelda, Sarah Gardiner as Bernie and Eve Kitchingman as Natalie all exhibit considerable expertise and powerful voices, whilst establishing themselves as distinct characters. Michael Mahoney’s Outspan and Guy Freeman’s Derek, are excellent musicians and give strong comic portrayals. Ryan Kelly and Connor Litten also offer effective support, musically and dramatically.

Completing the band is Stuart Reid, convincing as the enigmatic Joey the Lips. He’s an old-timer, characterised by his questionable stories of playing with everyone from James Brown to the Beatles and a born-again Christianity that somehow doesn’t impede him from seducing all the girls in the band.

In the non-singing but pivotal role of Jimmy Rabbitte, James Killeen is engaging and believable, holding the plot – and the band - together.

Nigel Pivaro fulfils the obligatory function in every touring musical of being ‘somebody from a soap’. Fortunately, he is also a stage actor of considerable experience and skill and delivers an entertaining performance, doubling as Jimmy’s father and as a grumpy caretaker. Ronnie Yorke is also very funny as the psychopathic Mickah.

At times, one feels the show lacks some of the immediacy and drive of the film but the trade-off is considerable, given the amount of musical numbers this terrific cast deliver. Jimmy calls The Commitments, ‘the hardest-working band in the world’. Well, this could possibly be the hardest-working cast.

After the show proper there is a lengthy curtain call packed with great numbers like ‘Mustang Sally’ and the wildly misogynistic and dated, but somehow still seductive, ‘Try A Little Tenderness.’

The band gets everyone on their feet and the Monday-night audience was very much ready to party with them. Everybody seemed to have a terrific time. Great singers, great musicians, great fun!

Review: Jonathan Cash

Photos: Ellie Kurttz 


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