Brian Gilligan as all sweat and soul, Commitments' vocalist Deco. Pictures: Johan Persson

The Commitments

The New Alexandra Theatre


WHAT a cracking night's entertainment - Blues Brothers with blarney. Two solid hours of rock and soul based, like Alan Parker's award winning cult film, on Roddy Doyle's opening novel in his Barrytown Trilogy.

It tells of the rise, or at least a nudge in an upward direction, and even faster fall of the world's hardest working soul band, The Commitments, a band of misfits who perhaps were not as committed as they might have been although a couple of them certainly should have been, committed that is, or at least put on stronger medication.

Set in 1986, the band is the creation of Dublin music fan Jimmy, played by Andrew Linnie, who works in a sweet factory but really wants to manage a soul band, playing soul music - none of this modern rubbish.

Outspan (Christian James) on guitar and Derek (Peter Mooney) on bass, start the whole thing off by asking Jimmy to help them escape from a truly dreadful trio led by a boring, pretentious synth player. So, Jimmy's dream takes shape starting with an ad for anyone with soul, but after rejecting the host of wannabes who are neverevercouldbes who reply, he is left with mates and people he knows with varying degrees of musical talent – Dean's granddad, for example, has lost a lung, so Dean, played by Padraig Dooney, has been given his saxophone and the best that could be said of his playing is that he knows which end to blow down.

As his playing improves, though, he starts to show a dangerous leaning towards "intellectual music" – jazz. Have to keep an eye on that one.

Jimmy and dad

Andrew Linnie as Jimmy and Kevin Kennedy as his dad

Then there is Joey the Lips, an old stager with a touch of old time religion, a stranger who turns up out of the blue,with his trumpet and unlikely tales of all the soul legends he has played with – but at least he can play. Joey, played by Alex McMorran, plays more than the trumpet though and is rapidly working his way through the three brilliant backing singers, Bernie (Christina Tedders), Natalie (Amy Penston) and Imelda (Leah Penston), and yes, Amy and Leah are sisters.

We have James (Rhys Whitfield) on piano and then we start to drift into more unstable territory with drummer Billy (John Currivan) whose style is inspired by Animal in The Muppets.

And finally the frontman, Deco, played wonderfully by Brian Gilligan, the lead singer with the voice of an angel but who is such an obnoxious, unlikable excuse for a human being that only his mother could love him, and that would only be under duress after a court order. A performance full of funny, if at times, revolting, touches.

And if that lot is not enough there is always Mickah, played by Sam Fordham, who is a psychopath hired as security. Mickah has a policy of headbutt first and ask questions – well he doesn't actually ask any questions, just headbutts, but he does become the drummer when Billy walks out rather than kill Deco, which was the alternative option.

In the background is Coronation Street's Curly, Kevin Kennedy, as Jimmy's long suffering dad – doubling up as the cantankerous caretaker in the community hall where the band are launched on an unsuspecting public - the bingo caller being in hospital meaning the hall was free.

Amid all the bickering, in fighting, arguments, Joey's womanising and great humour there is also some great music with more than 20 soul hits with the likes of Night Train, In The Midnight Hour, Papa Was A Rolling Stone, Save Me, I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Thin Line Between Love and Hate, Reach Out, Uptight, Knock On Wood, River Deep, Mountain High and, inevitably, Try A Little Tenderness.

The Otis Redding 1966 soul version of a song first recorded in 1932, was given a new lease of life when it became almost the anthem of the 1991 film and it provides the climax to an up-on-your-feet, sing and clap along finale which opened with Mustang Sally.

It was all going so swimmingly with a recording contract in the bag and then came the head-butts, broken nose, walk outs, pregnancy, escape to America and . . . lets just call it artistic differences.

Doyle, who wrote the film screenplay, has returned to the book for his script for the musical, with a love story, eventually, as his ending here rather than the new band and promise of another musical journey which is his sign off in the book.

There is enough of a story and enough humour in the plot to lift it way above the average jukebox musical, making it  a play with music, and the motley band of Dublin Northside musical strugglers manage to learn to play their instruments remarkably quickly to produce a classy soul band with strong vocals from Gilligan and the three girls who manage some great solos. It's real tap your feet, feelgood, standing ovation, cheer then head home with a smile on your face stuff!

Director Caroline Jay Ranger keeps everything moving at a cracking pace all helped by Soutra Gilmour's well thought out set which slides in and out from pub to community hall, Jimmy's sitting room to grim street in an instant and full marks too for well balanced sound from Rory Madden, not easy with a live band and two drummers for the encores - all effectively lit by Jon Clark.

Plenty of laughs, great music and a show that cannot fail to lift the spirits. What more can you ask for? Just enjoy the craic. To 18-03-17

Roger Clarke


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