The Commitments at Norwich Theatre Royal: Review

At one point in The Commitments, a review is quoted which describes the band as ‘a good time’, and this eloquently sums up tonight’s experience at Norwich Theatre Royal. The musical, based on the book by Roddy Doyle, and following the fortunes of Jimmy (played solidly by Andrew Linnie) as he forms a Dublin soul band, is full of energy, humour, and great songs. To go into detail about the band’s vicissitudes is impossible in such a brief review, but from the opening scene of a Christmas party in a pub, at which Deco (Brian Gilligan) drunkenly reveals his powerful vocal talents while standing on (and falling off) a table, and all through the fights and the comings and goings of various band members, the performance was superb.

It was choreographed expertly, with multiple scenes sometimes being simultaneously represented, and the lighting and diaphanous curtains facilitating smooth transitions. This was true especially during the audition scene, the final moments in the dressing room before the band’s debut performance,  and the rendition of ‘Papa was a Rolling Stone’, which required precisely executed and timed movements across the stage, and sharp transitions between the singers of different lines. Everyone in the ensemble was truly excellent, but Gilligan, and Leah Penston (as Imelda) were remarkably strong. The ensemble’s chemistry was also one of the best features, going beyond the production’s requirements. This was extended into the audience for the encore, a triptych of extra songs interspersed with Norwich’s own cheering, vocals and hand clapping, spurred on by Gilligan’s Deco. In this part, his ‘I like this bit’ when on the floor, being loomed over by the Commitmentettes, was a highlight. Also for comedy, Kevin Kennedy, both as Jimmy’s fecking and blinding Da and the irascible caretaker of the Community Centre where the band plays its first gig (because the bingo caller is in hospital), was notable, as was Christina Tedders’ Bernie. But again, and in a clear trend in this review, the entire performance was in this respect more than sound.

The ensemble sang and played all the necessary instruments, so every one of the twenty-four soul hits was delivered with the volume, rhythm and tangible harmonic layering it deserved. If one criticism must be made, it is that the narrative feels a little thin at times, especially if you’ve read the book and seen the film. But this is just a rather petty criticism of the script; on the whole, the acting was great, and although the ending, despite light but obvious hints, still seemed abrupt, it was never hard to follow the story. And anyway, the lasting impression is of the music, a sequence of stunning tracks, from ‘Proud Mary’ to ‘Try a Little Tenderness’, which will for a few hours make you forget the stress of your summatives, and enjoy life again (remember that?). To again quote from that fictional review with which I began, ‘catch them before it’s too late’!

The Commitments will be running at Norwich Theatre Royal from 28th November-3rd December. 


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January 2022
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