Reviewed by Deborah Banasko
I am embarrassed to say that I have never actually seen the film version of The Commitments, but like most people I am very familiar with the music. I was desperate to see the theatre show with my Mum, and I am assured that the theatre show was very true to the film!
I have been to the Bradford Alhambra many times as it is a lovely theatre. It is modern inside with two spacious bars and the usual snacks kiosks. The main auditorium is beautiful, and the seating is always comfortable no matter where we have been sat. It is just 10 minutes walk from the train station and around the corner from a main car-park.
The story of The Commitments is set in working class Dublin 1985/86. Two friends Outspan and Derek decide to leave their synth-pop band and go to their friend Jimmy (played by Andrew Linnie) for advice on what musical direction to take next. He convinces them that soul is what the people want, and sets out to form a soul band, The Commitments. He recruits a drummer, trainee saxophone player, pianist, an ageing trumpet player known as Joey The Lips, and three girls as the backing vocalists. Eventually he finds his front man, Deco (played by Brian Gilligan), who is persistently late, ignorant and scruffy (on the verge of disgusting), played brilliantly by Gilligan. Jimmy manages to land their first gig at the local bingo hall and has dreams of a recording contract, but with Deco’s increasingly egotistic behaviour and Joey the Lips ability to charm all of the Commitment-ettes, the band are rocky to say the least.
The opening number “Proud Mary” really set the tone and quality of the entire show – simply electrifying. What I loved especially was that the show had a real story and the foundations to this were set early on before the musical numbers became more frequent.
Whilst the original film was made some time ago, the story has stood the test of time and feels fresh. The typical Irish comedy was hilarious, and whilst there is some mild bad language it was delivered in an inoffensive way that added to the humour and set the tone of the era and working class backdrop. Comedy hi-lights were Kevin Kennedy (Jimmy’s Dad) and Sam Fordham (Mickah). In the final scene of the first half Fordham was hilarious and encompassed the role of, what was essentially a bit of a nutcase, to the finest detail. He has impeccable timing and you just couldn’t take your eyes off him. This is something that I noticed with all of the cast, that even when they were in the background they were completely in character with every movement and mannerism. Such a talented group of actors!
I think it is important not to overlook Linnie, who played Jimmy. Whilst he was the band manager and did not sing, he felt like the glue that held the quick scene changes together and kept things moving. He made it look effortless but really had the most challenging role to undertake.
I must mention the amazing scenery. At one point, there were 3 or 4 different scenes on the stage at the same time, but somehow it didn’t look confused and it just maintained the steady pace of the story as actors moved between scenes.
What was impressive to me was that there were so many key characters, but no-one was overshadowed as the performers complemented one-another perfectly. The vocals from Gilliigan and the ladies Penston, Penston and Tedders were stunning. Hi-lights were, of course Mustang Sally (which I was very pleased permitted audience participation on this one), River Deep, Mountain High, and Papa was a Rolling Stone.
The finale involved a series of numbers played one after the other with entire cast involved, and it felt like I was at a concert such was the ability of Gilligan as a front man.
What I especially loved was that these final numbers were really placed for the audience’s enjoyment, as the actual story had come to a close. Gilligan relaxed out of character and was both hilarious with his wit, had the audience clapping and cheering and just looked to be in his element. Tedders also gave a powerful lead vocal with “River Deep”, and the dance routines from the Commitment-ettes were contagious.
The cast looked surprised and so appreciative of the final applause, and there wasn’t an ego in sight.
I have seen many theatre shows, but I have never before seen an entire audience jump to their feet with such force the second the final song finished; every single person chose to instantly get up and blow the roof off the theatre with applause (so to speak), no exceptions. The cast worked so hard to create a natural, effortless team performance with every single person at their peak. This show is in my top 3 of all time, and was totally unexpected. To steal the tag-line of The Commitments, this is the hardest working (and best rehearsed) cast in the world.
Overall a fun enjoyable story, amazing music, vocals and acting… a first-class night out.
Tickets cost from £21 to £49 (booking fees may apply).
The Commitments is at the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford from 8-13 May 2017, for more information or to book tickets visit www.bradford-theatres.co.uk or call the box office on 01274 432000.
Alhambra Theatre, Morley Street, Bradford, BD7 1AJ | 01274 432000