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The Commitments: New Wimbledon Theatre Review

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The Commitments Launches at You from the Get-Go

Inspired by the Roddy Doyle novel and the frenetic, foul-mouthed film version by the late Alan Parker, The Commitments on stage combines a greatest hits package of the best of 60s soul-inspired music with the fast and loose domestics of an Irish working class lifestyle. If you get on board with the Motown train then the lulls can be forgiven.

Working Class Jimmy Wants to Rise with Sweet Soul

The story has elements of The Full Monty with a soundtrack that elevates it above the school of hard knocks. There’s not too much time to mope around thinking of a better life when there are so many competing voices with or without the microphone at any one time. The story is driven and almost narrated by Jimmy (superbly played by James Killeen who is a total natural). He works for a confectionery company but thinks that sweet soul is there to form true meaning rather than ping the sherbet fountain cash till. This creates several impromptu auditions played with good humour (love the Depeche Mode reference), to try and form a band that will take off from community hall to gala concerts.

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Deco Grows up as The Commitments Pump up the Volume

The show is then all about the music as the journey gels and rebels occasionally with strong characters coming, going, leaving and returning. However, there are nuances and shifts in tone. When the music is pumping loud, Deco (played by a captivating Ian McIntosh) goes under a transformation from 'it’s all about me' to true group therapy. When he belts out Try a Little Tenderness, it almost gets into Chippendale territory in terms of clothing arrangements. He’s ably backed (and at times fronted) by a trio of superb female singers including the sassy Imelda (Ciara Mackey), Bernie (Sarah Gardiner) and the flowering Natalie (Eve Kitchingman) who loses the bespectacled look for the spectacle of fame.

Mickah and Joey the Lips have all the Fun in Dublin

Jimmy’s father is played by Nigel Pivaro, not entirely onside but never showing bad faith and with a penchant for Elvis. There’s enough traditional tough love and a supporting hand when his son is on a downer. Connor Litten (Dean) and Stephen O’Riain (James) both supply great instrumental accompaniment for the band. Joey the Lips is the mature but roguish cool dude who has seen it all on tour with the big boys. Ronnie Yorke as Mickah is like a Chas Smash of Madness character fuelled on big love and big firsts until he finds his own rhythm at the drums. He has an absolute blast as does the audience.

Encore of Mustang Sally and More Sets Wimbledon Alight

Andrew Linnie’s direction captures the energy of restless Dublin culture. The epic music numbers from Thin Line Between Love and Hate to Reach Out is a perfect construct for the ups and downs of the road trip for these people from the streets. Tim Blazdell’s set is the essence of the down to earth but eccentric city showcasing 80s culture like Miami Vice and Walkman headphones. The maturity of the audience is a clue.

If there are issues, it’s the battle for centre stage and a few lulls in dramatic pacing. With so many elements to the band, it’s hard to keep a set eye on anything. Is there really a plot beyond the stage? Not really but who needs a deep storyline when the soundtrack elevates everything. Killeen is such a reassuring and positive presence that you never lose empathy.

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The night ended on a raucous note even for a more reserved SW19 crowd. McIntosh was in his element as the lead charmer. There was nothing forced about the rise of the crowd from the seats. The proletariat wowed the people. That’s something to cherish.

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