Interview with Riona O Connor from the cast of The Commitments

The CommitmentsThe Commitments started with a best-selling novel, and then an international hit movie that inspired a chart-topping band. Now Roddy Doyle’s classic story about an assorted bunch of Irish kids who find salvation through soul music comes to the stage for the very first time in London’s West End.

Retaining the Irish connection, our latest interview is with Kerry born Riona O Connor, who made Dublin her home for three years while studying theatre. Riona, who is playing the part of Alice in The Commitments, recently answered some questions about herself and the show.

When and where did you make your professional stage debut?
I made my professional debut covering and playing the role of Belle in Beauty And The Beast UK and European Tour.

Riona O ConnorYou are making your West End debut in The Commitments. Does it make a difference to you that you will be performing in the West End?
It makes a huge difference. 17 years ago I saw Les Miserables in the Palace Theatre so it’s a huge joy to be performing here finally. Not to mention it’s close to where I live!

You are playing the part of Alice. What can you tell us about your character and how she fits into the storyline?
Alice works in McBirney’s Sweet Factory with Deco and Jimmy Rabbitte.  She isn’t very happy when Deco practises his vocal riffs out loud in her canteen. However he wins her over when she sees him performing with The Commitments and they fast become friends.

What are you enjoying most about being in the show?
I’m loving working with such a fantastically talented group of people both on and off the stage.  We have a world class team. We also do some killer jam sessions when opportunities arise.

It looks like a fun show to be a part of. What is it like backstage and during warm-up sessions?
Throw a bunch of Irish people together in London and you can’t help but have fun!  We have a lot of craic backstage, many of the cast play multiple instruments so a sing-song is always threatening. Warm-up sessions consist of Natalie Hope whipping us into shape for our physical, and Alan Berry making sure we’re warm, hitting the high notes and ready to go for the vocal.

Why should everyone spend their hard-earned money on coming to see The Commitments?
It’s incredibly funny, the music will knock your socks off and the cast (if I do say so myself) are amazing!

Away from the West End stage you are also a regular soloist at different venues. What type of music do you like to sing?
I sing lots of traditional Irish music as well as the traditional English Concert Hall songs. I love singing pop, rock and soul and musical theatre.  I have a shameless penchant for Meatloaf.  I also love new writing and being involved in the creative process.  Some of my favourite concerts and performances have been working with Matthew Strachan and Michael Bruce on their new pieces.

You are a composer for ‘I Fight Bears’. Can you tell us about that?
I have always written music and when the opportunity arose to contribute to ‘I Fight Bears’ new game FIST OF AWESOME I immediately knew what it needed.  I’ve written the title song which appears on the credits for the game.  I wanted it to sound like a cross between Jack Black and Foo Fighters so I enlisted the help of producer Matthew Strachan (composer of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, Next Door’s Baby, About Bill) and singer Connor McAllister (Lend Me A Tenor, Billy Elliot) to help me create the sound I wanted.  I’m really proud I’ve written a song my Mom can get on iTunes when one day she learns how to use a phone.

Away from performing what do you like to do to chill out?
I watch Netflix! At the moment I’m planning our wedding this coming February which I’m (so far) finding quite enjoyable.  I’m also enjoying – or maybe I should say enduring – the Insanity fitness programme with the rest of the cast before shows so I can look half decent in ‘The Dress’.

What message to those following your career?
It’s great to be working in the Palace Theatre, long may it continue!

Many thanks Riona and best wishes to you, the cast and creatives in The Commitments.

Neil Cheesman

The Commitments is showing at the Palace Theatre.


Content updated 7th October 2014