The Commitments Tour at Royal & Derngate, Northampton Review

The Commitments credit Ellie Kurttz

As simple and honest as soul music itself!

press night tickets for review

Since the publication of Roddy Doyle‘s novel The Commitments has been transformed into a movie and then a stage production which have been delighting its audiences with the power of soul music and a feel good atmosphere. After a five year run on the West End, The Commitments are now back on the road again and this week the hardest working band are performing at Royal and Derngate, Northampton – which promises to be a feel-good celebration of soul.

Based in Dublin in the mid 80’s, we follow the story of Jimmy Rabitte (James Killeen) and his group of working class mates who are keen to bring simple, basic and honest soul to life as become the hardest working band. With a solid music setlist with soul bangers from the 50s and 60s this is a must see for soul lovers and fans of The Commitments movie.

lauren holding the commitments programme infront of the commitments on the elevator at royal and derngate Northampton

If you’re seeking a deep performance then you might come away disheartened, but if you’re going in expecting a jukebox musical which celebrates some of the soul classics with exceptional performances and plenty of innuendoes and one-liners then you’re in for a treat.

The musical score features bangers such as Tina Turner, Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett, there’s plenty of toe-tapping Motown hits which hit the right spot to take you that little bit higher into the party mood feeling of being on a night out.

The plot may well be quite two-dimensional and incredibly predictable even if you haven’t seen the movie or the stage adaption before, but it’s that bit of harmless entertainment which certainly delivers. Jimmy (James Killeen) has a vision to start a soul band pulling together local waifs and strays. The band becomes successful before a timely crumble. It’s a fleeting moment of success before the cracks that had shown from the get go become too much and the band splits. They all love Imelda (Ciara Mackey) who ‘holds the group together’ and becomes one of the deciding factors for the band splitting before getting together with Jimmy.

The script is written by the original writer of Roddy Doyle who perhaps gives a lighter and watered down version of the movie. With less ties and pulls of socio-political issues, although vaguely present, plays heavily on the music and banter and humour of that time between the group. Expect sexualised jokes and dad jokes to pad out the musical score which is always performed either as a rehearsal or as a gig. The music doesn’t necessarily bring much to the storyline, neither does it move the story on for substance, instead it is purely for performance purposes which could be percieved as a little clunky and stop-start but the performances themselves are far too excellent to get caught up in the lack of storyline or emotion that they bring.

The only song I did feel brought some substance to the plot was ‘It’s a Thin Line Between Love and Hate’ which was a great rendition from the fabulous trio consisting of Natalie (Eve Kitchingman), Imelda (Ciara Mackey), and Bernie (Sarah Gardiner). This performance really highlighted the dislike the group had for the incredibly arrogant yet still somehow loveable Deco (Ian McIntosh).

I especially found Mickah (Ronnie York) incredibly funny which appealed right to my humour along with the daft Derek ‘the meatman’ Scully (Guy Freeman). These two characters are downright over the top in the almost cartoonish aspect, but I was absolutely here for the comedic elements they brought. I enjoyed the fiery nature that Billy (Ryan Kelly) had, never quite knowing just when he’d snap. Dean (Connor Litten) was a smooth saxophonist whose character seemed to start to shine and grow in confidence which was complemented with the addition of the Blues Brothers shades whilst I thought Stephen O’Riain portrayed an adorable nerdy James! Jimmy’s Da (Nigel Pivaro, Coronation Street’s Terry Duckworth) was highly entertaining, the cynical older man who loved nothing more than sitting in his armchair with the TV on reading his newspaper with his musical tastes starting and ending with The King, Elvis and everything else being told to… turn down that shite!

The bunch of misfits scoffing chips in rehearsals are fully aware they’re never going to be the next big thing, but they know they’re enjoying the craic and the banter in the moment. They don’t share Jimmy’s passion neither do they share Joey’s (Ed Thorpe) faith, but they do share some things… Imelda and a hate for Deco… even if they do need him for his downright incredible vocals!

Tim Blazdell’s set design was remarkable. In fact, as we were walking in I turned to Alex and pointed out how good it looked – and that was before it transformed into living rooms, bars and bedrooms. There were a few opening night hiccups but the cast didn’t let that even phase them and it all continued smoothly. The lighting really took centre stage during the final segment of the performance, but provided some outstanding elements, especially as a flickering television in the living room and the use of spotlighting during split scenes.

There is nothing too downright dramatic or overly romantic that happens to make you feel any sort of way for the characters any deeper than skin-deep so when the band does disperse, I didn’t feel any sort of way. Instead, I had a real good night out and enjoyed getting up to dance and sway along to an incredible gig at the end and just enjoyed a light-hearted fun musical. No, I wasn’t emotionally invested but I did feel truly part of a feel-good celebration of soul and felt that it was a must watch for audiences who love a joyful musical performance with a killer soundtrack. A harmless, matter-of-fact… it is what it is jukebox musical! The Commitments is a ‘feckin‘ good night out!

Royal & Derngate, Northampton 10 APR – 15 APR
Running time: 2h 20 (including a 20 min interval)
Age Recommendation: 12+ (there is some swearing, sexualised jokes, sexual connotations and depictions of smoking and drug use on stage)

Phil McIntyre Live Ltd
Based on the book by Roddy Doyle
Directed by Andrew Linnie
Set designed by Tim Blazdell
Lighting designed by Jason Taylor
Sound designed by Rory Madden


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