Did The Commitments feel good? Oh, yes

Photo credit Ellie Kurttz

Watching and listening to The Commitments live on stage is a joy. You witness the creation of a strange musical alchemy that combines people from a run-down, working class, area of 1980’s Dublin with a magical music, Soul, born many miles away in the United States, to create something truly fabulous. A ragged assembly of musical talents (a butcher on bass, really?) and miscreants form a spectacular show band that energises any audience put before it. Years on from its first writing and becoming a famous movie, this fictional taster of the musical rhythm of the Dublin people remains a credit to author Roddy Doyle.  

The first sight of the set reflects the grey downtown, downbeat backdrop to the story that follows, and that is never quite left behind. Yet that greasy spoon of a musical crucible had the seeds of greatness within it, as becomes clear.

The cast, most of who are first seen as a bunch of people just having a good time at a pub, start to  shine as they put the band – The Commitments – together. In between, they squabble, fall out, have romances and infatuations, and their only real unity comes in their love of the music. Their discord is all part of the charm, along with lines like, “Would you shut up, ye bollix?” Characters such as the spectacular skinhead, James (Stephen O’Riain) and seldom-stirring slob, Jimmy’s Da (Nigel Pivaro) weave in and out of the plot as the main musicians come and grow together. Charismatic vocalist Deco (Ian McIntosh) sounds remarkably like the singer in the Spotify show soundtrack, and that is certainly a compliment. So too was the way some of the audience leaned forward on those occasions when he was somewhat disrobed.

From leaning forward, to standing ovations? That was where the audience was led, thanks to a procession of sampled or fully played tracks, rough and edgy as the band tried them out, slick and spectacular by the close of the show.  The songs of this musical medley included – and this is just a sample to locate your musical radar – Tina Turner’s Proud Mary, Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It On The Grapevine, Eddie Floyd’s Knock On Wood, Aretha Franklin’s Think, and The Temptations Papa Was A Rolling Stone. Plus what is probably regarded as The Commitments signature tune, Mustang Sally.

The vocal talents, dancing and harmonies of the women of the show stood out even amid what is a cast of actor-musicians without weakness. The ladies who became the backing and occasional front singers of the band, Imelda (Ciara Mackey), Natalie (Eve Kitchingman), and Sarah Gardiner (Bernie) almost stole the show by themselves, which is why I chose their image for this post. One Bromley Buzz tip – the show (on our night) ended at around 10.20pm. Whatever you do, don’t miss the encore. Bernie’s song in that finish, which we won’t name (spoiler!) was worth going to listen to by itself. But both the brothers and sisters of the stage, including those I’ve not named, all played their part on a fine night. My Bromley Buzz co-presenter Zeenat Noorani commented on the sheer dynamism of the show, and the energy and vibe of a cast who looked like they were loving their work. This is clearly a feelgood show for all concerned.  

If you walk to the car after a show discussing what is the best thing you’ve seen at a venue and listen to the songs the next morning on Spotify, you know you’ve had a particularly good time. We did. Why don’t you?

The show runs until Saturday 1st October, tickets here – https://churchilltheatre.co.uk/Online/tickets-the-commitments-bromley-2020.

Darren Weale, 28th September 2022

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