Wednesday, December 7

The Commitments – Sheffield Lyceum

I had been waiting for this one, as a fan of the novel-cum-cult film by Roddy Doyle and I certainly enjoyed my evening. This musical whilst a 5-star juke box musical night’s entertainment, leaves the purists amongst us longing for a more politically developed and socially aware production.  Instead of the slight nod to the issues of drugs and disillusion in the 1980’s Dublin, early comments such as ‘the Irish are the blacks of Europe’ are unfortunately never fully explained and explored. The production in effect sells itself out to the jukebox genre whilst promising to be so much more, it runs in the veins of similar productions such as We Will Rock You rather than dealing with the issues like Green Day’s American Idiot. But all that said The Commitments is was a cracking night of Rhythmic Soul with hits galore that cannot fail to entrap you and two hours never passed so quickly!

Directed by Andrew Linnie with Set Design by Tim Blazdell, the visuals morph with consummate ease. The set is manipulated from location to location as the hidden areas are unveiled on the stage and the working class Ireland is hinted at. The band rightly take centre stage which leaves no place for a set that does more than frame the album of songs and Blazdell achieves this wonderfully. With over 20 soul sensational songs the sound in this production is paramount and was perfect on the opening night at Sheffield. Too often touring productions have gremlins at the beginning, in a new venue – thank fully that was not the case.

Photo: Ellie Kurttz

Set in a fictional suburb of Dublin, Jimmy Rabbitte (James Killeen) after his disillusion at the Arts sound decides to form a soul band of locals. Whilst some have mediocre talent, he moulds them with the task of listening to and emulating the great Soul legends. Then arrives on the scene the aging Trumpet player Joey ‘The Lips’ Fagin (Stuart Reid) to offer advice and vision. Lacking the ‘soul man vocalist’, Jimmy persuades the slightly unhinged and temperamental Deco to become the lead singer. As the group’s ability and popularity rise so do their creative differences and also their ego’s, leading to an energy that is both electric and volatile.

Said to be ‘the hardest working band in Dublin’ the cast certainly showed that.  Although Ian McIntosh as Deco is the front man of the band, the real strength is with the energy and dynamism of the whole cast, not a weak link on stage at any point.  The songs are packed into the show and the characters haven’t the time to develop in front of us as they rollercoaster from one hit to the next.  One character we do invest in however, is the group’s skinhead bouncer Mickah played by Ronnie Yorke, a great performance – watch out for this one. McIntosh as Deco has a great voice, and we see the really cheeky chappie persona grow on stage, even including interactions with the audience towards the end of Act Two as he gives a couple in the audience some couples advice in ‘Treat Her Right’!. The backing singers of Imelda (Ciara Mackey), Natalie (Eve Kitchingham) and Bernie (Sarah Gardiner) are really strong in all departments, they manage to pull off the energetic and over exuberant dance moves of amateurs whilst vocally blasting a perfect unison sound.

After being bombarded with a vocal assault of hits such as Proud Mary, Think, Knick on wood and Mustang Sally expertly lead by George Francis as Musical director, the final act is almost a concert/gig we are watching from the Band. The energy on stage is electric, the audience are on their feet, singing and dancing and The Commitments leave the stage with the song we have all been waiting for the one that made the film such a hit – Try a little tenderness, and Deco does not disappoint!

I left the theatre feeling like time had stood still for the last two hours and taken me to my happy place – I was buzzing! I thoroughly recommend you go see this show at the Sheffield Lyceum until Saturday 22nd October, forget what it lacks and concentrate on what it delivers – escapism and an absolutely cracking soundtrack!!!

Reviewer: Tracey Bell

Reviewed: 18th October 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★