The Commitments, Bristol Hippodrome and touring

IF is show had been a race horse competing at Cheltenham’s National Hunt Festival last week, a form book might well has described it as being a relentless galloper. From flag fall to a rousing set of encores, Roddy Doyle’s stage version of his 1987 novel and 1991 film The Commitments, is relentless as it crams 22 full numbers and parts of 16 others into a two and a half hour, including interval, show.

It does this to some extent at the expense of the story of a young Dublin Northside music fanatics battle to create a band from talent within that working class community, building it to success, and then trying to prevent it from tearing itself apart because of personality clashes. These clashes come about mainly because of the egotistical behaviour of the band’s over-ambitious lead singer Deco, played and sung in the most uninhibited of manners by Ian Macintosh.

For all his outrageous attempts at upstaging every other member of the Band, he could not dim the input of Ciara Makay (Imelda) Eve Kitchingman (Natalie) and Sarah Gardiner (Bernie), who created a singing trio that were a match for anyone on stage throughout the evening. They also, with the little dialogue left to them, created three feisty working class girls prepared and capable of doing battle for their rights with any adversary.

The remaining seven members of the band not only have to make bricks out of straw, painting characters in big bold brush strokes whilst at the same time supplying an almost non-stop flow of music. During some of the bigger numbers, music mainly from the 1960s, you could not help but wonder where all the volume came from, until you read the programme that informed you that MD Adam Smith and four other musicians were hidden away somewhere on the premises.

Also, not so much lurking, but popping in and out of the action and keeping the storyline flowing, was James Killeen’s very likable music fanatic, Jimmy and as his Da (Nigel Pivaro), taking a holiday from his regular visits to Coronation Street to play Jack and Vera Duckworth’s wayward son Terry.

The gritty harshness of life in this part of Dublin in the 1960s is underlined by Tim Blazdell’s bleak sets and Alice Lessing’s cheap-looking costume – nothing haute couture on view in this show.

But it is the musical content that dominates this stage version of the story, and the audience was obviously happy with this balance, giving a very positive reply when asked if they wanted yet another encore.


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