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Review of The Commitments at Palace Theatre January 2014

The CommitmentsBased on Roddy Doyle’s 1987 novel, The Commitments (directed by Jamie Lloyd) has finally made its debut as a musical at London’s Palace Theatre.

The Commitments takes place in Ireland in the 1980s, a country struggling with political unrest and mass unemployment. However, despite the problems, it was also a time for culture to thrive with all kinds of new music and theatre.

The story brings together a group of young musicians who form a group to escape their mundane lives and bring soul to the people of Ireland. The band is managed by Jimmy Rabbitte (Denis Grindel), who is the glue that holds the group together when tempers fray, personalities clash and rivalry (unsurprisingly over girls) surfaces.

Although there is no real underlying storyline of love or personal hardship, The Commitments shows the Irish community spirit – if you work together, you can achieve anything, because you have “the power to make something beautiful, the power to create great music“.

The (predominantly Irish) cast is a strong one and the enthusiasm and energy is apparent immediately. No matter what your overall view of the show, there’s no denying that it’s fun and everyone involved is having a great time.

Killian Donnelly (Deco) is, as ever, fantastic. His voice is sublime and his acting so natural, even with this turbulent character. Christopher Fry (taking on the role of Joey) is also excellent and Joe Woolmer (Mickah) manages to steal the show in all of his scenes.

The stage is well designed, as each scene slots into the next and different buildings unfold from others, although it’s a shame that the backstage crew are so obvious during some of the scene changes. However, lugging a piano and several drum kits around is no mean feat and there are a lot of instruments required throughout the performance!

Not a conventional musical, The Commitments has no original songs. Instead there are renditions of classic songs, including I Heard it Through the Grapevine, Reach Out I’ll Be There and Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.

There is also no singing for the sake of singing; songs are sung because they’re part of an audition piece, a rehearsal or a performance. Even Mr Pitiful is believable as Grindel looks highly embarrassed singing a brief excerpt of the song, before stopping and saying “I wish I could sing.”

No doubt part of this production’s charm is the fact that it isn’t a typical musical and even those who aren’t fans of the West End will be interested to see the stage version of this classic film.

In fact, I challenge anyone not to leave the theatre smiling, even if you don’t join the cast (and audience) in singing Mustang Sally and Try a Little a Tenderness.

Review by Michaela Clement-Hayes

The Commitments
Palace Theatre
Evenings: Tuesday to Sunday 7.30pm
Matinees: Saturday and Sunday 3.00pm

Friday 24th January 2014