14-19 November 2016
Reviewed by Dotty Winters
As a huge fan of the original book and subsequent film I was, initially, a little sceptical about the musical-theatre remaking of The Commitments. However, Roddy Doyle’s involvement (he wrote the book for the show, as well as being the executive producer) provided some comfort. Even so, I was intrigued to see how the gritty, low-key, tension-filled storyline would translate to the stage. Compilation musicals have tended to be at the more razzamatazz-end of the musical theatre spectrum.
From the outset, the set does a good job of capturing the dark and grimy atmosphere familiar to fans of the film, and the strong accents and liberal use of excellent swear words were an early indicator that we weren’t in for an evening of jazz-hands and stage-smiles. Inevitably, some of the intimacy and detail of its predecessors was lost in the translation to the big stage, but the energising effect of truly-live music and unedited vocal performances work better than ever on stage. The vocal performances were outstanding, and Brian Gilligan as a very charismatic Deco quickly had the whole room under his spell.
The script was warm and very funny, using humour, rather than tub-thumping, to make political points. The songs are central to the story line, and this prevented the performance from feeling too “Musical-y” and allowed the darker themes and spiky dialogue to zing without jarring. The musical numbers felt authentic, and the band members delivered high-quality musicality with an on-stage chemistry which created a real party atmosphere.
Soul music (over 20 soul classics) is the star of the show in this piece though. There’s no denying that this show is packed with great songs, and the audience could be heard singing along throughout, without encouragement. As the show reached it finale the audience were encouraged to join in, which they did with gusto, with many taking to their feet to dance.
I saw The Commitments at one of my favourite theatres, The Regent in Stoke. It’s a great space, and well run by friendly and knowledgeable staff. It’s location in the centre of Stoke-on-Trent close to train and bus routes and surrounded by low cost parking make it very easy to get to. As an extra treat I arrived in time to stop for a drink in the theatre’s Piano Bar before the show, which is very beautifully decorated and comfy, and, as the name suggests, has live piano music.
Where-ever you see it, this is a show to remember, beautifully capturing the unstoppable energy of teens with a dream which they hope will be enough to pull them out of their environment. It is testament to the incredible energy of the show that despite it being a rainy Monday night the audience not only sang and danced along, but also rose to their feet for two enthusiastic ovations.
Tickets cost from £17.90 to £52.40 (plus £2.85 transaction fee).
The Commitments is at the Regent Theatre in Stoke until 19 November 2016. For more information or to book tickets click here or call the box office on 0844 871 7649.
Regent Theatre, Piccadilly, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, ST1 1AP | 0844 871 7649