Review: The Commitments at the Opera House is ‘feel good vibes and great for a singalong’

A full five years on from its record-breaking in London’s West End - the stage adaptation of the highly popular, BAFTA-winning 1991 film, and 1987 novel: The Commitments makes its return to the stage at the Opera House as part of its 9-month UK tour.

Directed by Andrew Linnie and featuring a script by the original novelist, Roddy Doyle: the story is set in the deprived, working-class northside of Dublin in the early 1980s and revolves around a group of youths, led by Jimmy (James Killeen), who seek an escape from the doldrums of their everyday lives through music.

The Commitments Production Photos taken in Bromley on the 24th September 2022

Rather than follow the trend at the time and form a synth-heavy band – Jimmy decides that it is 1960s soul that more aptly speaks to the strife of the Irish working man, and, after begging and scraping together the equipment they need, they form The Commitments and go on a riotous tour
around Dublin.

For a fleeting moment, they are destined for stardom before falling apart under the weight of their disorderly parts, as ego and jealousy rear their ugly heads. There is plenty of humour along the way.

Jimmy’s Da, played by Coronation Street veteran Nigel Pivaro is a sobering and dismissive foil to Jimmy’s unbridled optimism, and there is comedic support within the band, from the butcher-by-day, Derek (Guy Freeman), and the crazy-eyed bouncer for the band – Mickah (Ronnie Yorke) – who stalks the stage like a caged tiger, before eventually getting to relieve a bit of that pent-up rage on the drums.

On the surface of it, it sounds like the perfect recipe for a jukebox musical. And it perhaps might have been better served sticking to that formula.

Instead, it tries to go for a diluted, stage-friendly version of the source material, which is quite gritty and dark, and as a result, it suffers a bit of an identity crisis. In the narrative-led sections – especially at the end – the show dragged a little and stalled its momentum.

Perhaps a little more, ahem, commitment, one way or the other, would have benefited the show, and by sticking to its strengths – the music – it might have flowed a little better.

The Commitments Production Photos taken in Bromley on the 24th of September 2022

Because it is through the music that the show shines. And where the band come into their own.

The lead singer, Deco, played with an arrogance that borders on obnoxious by the terrific Ben Morris is a standout performer.

So too, are the backing trio of Imelda, Natalie, and Bernie (Ciara Mackey, Eve Kitchingham, and Sarah Gardiner), who belt out the hits and are the backbone of the group throughout the show.

Real credit must go out to sound designer Rory Madden and set designer, Tim Blazdell for their efforts in presenting the music in such an effective manner.

In terms of tracks: it features, Papa Was a Rolling Stone, I Heard It Through the Grapevine, and even (I can’t get no) Satisfaction, amongst many others.

The finale is the standout part and even features an explosive encore performance of River Deep – Mountain High in honour of the late, great Tina Turner.

By the end of opening night, the whole audience was on their feet and really getting into the swing of things, and I was humming Think, by Aretha Franklin, all the way back to Piccadilly train station.

Featuring an uplifting soundtrack of over 20 of the most soulful Motown classics, performed by a talented cast of actor-musicians, it is guaranteed to have you tapping your foot and swaying your hips as you carry the feel-good vibes back home, too.

With a runtime of 2hrs 15 mins, and tickets starting from £13 – The Commitments runs at the Opera House, Manchester, Monday, 5th – Saturday, 10th June.

You can get your tickets by clicking here.

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