The Commitments at the Playhouse *** - let’s hear it for the band

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It’s over 30 years since we first saw, and heard, The Commitments, in the film adaptation of Roddy Doyle’s debut novel which sparked the Barrytown Trilogy. This stage musical takes us right back to the 1980s, with a glorious soul soundtrack that is, quite honestly, irresistible.

The audience was on its feet for the grand finale as the band really cut loose, but, overall, The Commitments just lacked something.

Doyle’s books are rich in razor-sharp, down to earth Irish humour. This show could have done with more of it as it told the story of manager Jimmy’s (James Killeen) bid to put together the greatest band Dublin - if not the world - has ever seen. A band fit to follow in the greats of soul music.

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His plans kicks into shape with the arrival of veteran trumpeter Joey “The Lips” Fagan (Stuart Reid), a veteran trumpeter, and singer Deco (Ian McIntosh), and they begin their journey from rank novices to the toast of Dublin - but not without fall out as the drummer quits, the sax man goes all jazz, and the singer’s ego takes him in search of Eurovision glory.

The Commitments (Pic: Ellie Kurttz)The Commitments (Pic: Ellie Kurttz)
The Commitments (Pic: Ellie Kurttz)

It’s a great tale, but we didn’t get to know much more about their characters other than their nicknames as they packed in a host of classic tunes from Proud Mary to Try A Little Tenderness to Mustang Sally.

Former Coronation Street star, Nigel Pivaro, whose name is on the ticket, made way on press night for Ed Thorpe as Jimmy’s Da, but the character felt on the periphery of the action throughout when it needed his caustic humour and older view of the world to prevail at times.

Ronnie Yorke lit up the second half with laughs with his introduction as Mikah, the skinhead bouncer whose aggression belied a soft heart and gave the show much of its energy as the band careered towards its big breakthrough gig.

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And, whatever its shortcomings, The Commitments had an in-built feel-good factor thanks to the enthusiasm, of the cast, a fabulous frontman in McIntosh, and the killer vocals of Ciara Mackey (Imelda), Eve Kitchingman (Natalie) and Sarah Gardiner (Bernie) as the backing singers.

A show about a band that isn’t actually a musical is a hard trick to pull off, but there is still much to commend in this show. The actors kick up a storm as musicians, and a clever stage setting transports them from workplace to a bar and a bingo hall with effortless ease.

And with a musical score rooted in soul classics, it still rocks. And on a chilly Monday night at the tail end of November, you really can’t complain about that …

The Commitments is at the Edinburgh Playhouse until Saturday.