Two of my most favourite things made me commit to a performance of The Commitments; soul music and the story being set in Dublin! I guess you would think I would have seen the film? Oh no, you are wrong I had not.
As I took my seat my dancing feet were at the ready and an exciting buzz was building within the audience of the marvellous Donald Gordon theatre. Right from the off the energy of the characters was electrifyingly high and I am pleased to say that high level of consistency did not drop one bit but kept increasing.
Now like I said, I am a big lover of soul music and the Emerald Isle but this show is universal;rooted in the nostalgia of both 60s/70s for the music and 80s for the fashion with political and social ideas of those times.
For those who are fans of the film version, you won’t be disappointed as having now seen clips from the film and the incredible vocal prowess of Andrew Strong who played Deco, Brian Gilligan sings with that same level of talented ability, maturity and life experience. The character of Deco is a north side Dublin lad who is just sailing through life with no sense of yearning for the future only the present, yet Gilligan sings with deep passion that is on fire and striving for better, for a life beyond the deprived life he is currently leading.
Those unfamiliar with Dublin humour are in for a real treat as the Irish lingo is on point; the majority of the cast is Irish so the humour comes across as accessible and natural banter. The connection between the audience and cast was palpable and at times felt like the audience were only one step away from joining in on the action, especially the big show numbers. The connection I noted is a real testament to the camaraderie the cast have together and how well they have gelled as a team.
For those sceptical of why a story of Dubliners want to pay homage to the soul kings and queens need to look closer to the history of Ireland and indeed how some Irish people felt they were perceived by the rest of the world. ‘We are the blacks of Europe’, said band manager Jimmy, played by Andrew Linnie. The history of soul music was not just about the fun times of hedonistic pleasure and sex, it was mixed with tales of love, heartbreak and the severity of the political and racial tension many African-Americans were feeling in the 60/70s. If we look at Marvin Gaye’s album ‘What’s going on’, is there a more poignant album to represent the distress and feelings of a nation caught up in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement? As we know the troubles were still on going in Ireland in the 80s and there were varied views on Irish people at the time. The fictional narrative here makes that link between the same feeling of discontent African-Americans had in the 60/70s and the Irish of the 70/80s both expressing their thoughts and feelings to the world through soul music.
Stand out moments from the cast had to be the big show numbers ‘Try A Little Tenderness’, ‘Mustang Sally’ and ‘River Deep Mountain High’ to name but a few! The Commitments ‘dudettes’, 80s Dublin version of The Supremes were a tight vocalist group who definitely added spark and sass to the show. Special mention has to be given to Kevin Kennedy who played Jimmy’s Da who had some perfectly executed one liners that added to the fabulous energy of the show. Kennedy will always be the family favourite Curly Watts of Coronation Street but it was good to see him in a very different role.
The Commitments is a great Easter treat and a fantastic night of nostalgia, soul, heart that will have you itching to get up on your feet and dance the night away. It really was a shame when the curtain came down on this brilliant show but I left with an added spring in my step.
The Commitments runs until the 15th April at the Wales Millennium Centre.