Review – The Commitments, Palace Theatre

Tuesday 1 October 2013

COM_Final_Vert_new+colsIt was almost like a trip back in time.

But not because the film of The Commitments (based on Roddy Doyle‘s 1987 book – which this show is based on) was 22 years ago, but because the preview tickets were all sold at half price.

Who ever made that decision must be applauded. That’s how it used to be. That’s how it should be. And perhaps producers who knock a measly tenner off for previews might look to it as an example as they moan about pesky bloggers posting reviews before their show officially opens. Not that it’ll prevent them blogging anyway, but they might just be a tad more forgiving.

Previews have sold out. One assumes they’re hoping for good word of mouth from early audiences. It’s a smart move as it seems extremely likely this will be the case.

Katy was Phil’s arm candy for the night. They’d both seen the film but could remember little of it other than liking it at the time. Twenty or so years later those cinema audiences are probably old enough to afford trips to the theatre, so the time may be right for this show. We’re not convinced by the latest report (commissioned by Ticketmaster) that 16 to 19-year-olds are more likely to attend the theatre than any other age group. They certainly weren’t at The Commitments.

Anyhoo, let’s face it, the plot is as thin as a Rizla paper and could just as easily be written on one. A young man, Jimmy (winningly likeable Denis Grindel), forms a soul band in Dublin, there’s a clash of egos and the band falls apart. An easily excused case for for a string of classics including “Knock on Wood”, “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine. The latter is performed by band front man Deco (Killian Donnelly) as he consumes a bag of chips. Now, there’s a real-food-on-stage first. Tricky and impressive. Probably best to avoid sitting in the front row.

What also impresses is, err, the commitment of the cast, the humour (book by Roddy Doyle) and seeing a West End musical risking language that could give Barking in Essex a run for its money. It may be the only decent run that show gets.

But what’s not to like in a show that has also has (albeit frustratingly brief) snatches of “Master and Servant”, “I Want to Take You Higher”, “Don’t You Want Me” and “Tubular Bells”, a roller disco, convincing Irish accents (probably because many of the cast are Irish), a shockingly belieavable headbutt, a satisfying dissing of jazz, Jaffa Cakes in their eighties packaging and wigs by Mr Richard Mawbey?

Soutra Gilmour must be the designer of choice of these days (she’s also doing Tim Rice’s new musical North Pacific at the Shaftesbury Theatre). The stage is surrounded by towering concrete high-rises which open up and form the various required locations most effectively. Coincidentally the band have to perform on the Barrytown Operetta Society’s set for South Pacific at one point. Gilmour must have had it up to here with palm trees.

The bottom line is that Jamie Lloyd‘s production is yet another jukebox musical, and at this stage of early previews it’s still a bit rough around the edges. Some of that roughness needs to be maintained, it somehow works in the show’s favour.

But what really lifts the evening is the high-energy cast and an outstanding and astonishing lead performance from Donnelly. This is the man everyone will leave the theatre talking about. Unless you go on a Tuesday when presumably he’s recuperating in a darkened room. That’s if Elaine Paige, Heather Headley and Lesley Garrett have vacated it for him.

It’s a shame he’s forced to encourage the audience to get up on their feet for a clap along curtain call. Judging by the reaction at this performance they’d have ovated anyway.

Of the slew of new musicals coming along in the coming months The Commitments has marked its territory ahead of the crowd. Though someone needs to sort out the scooter’s exhaust which charges around the stage throughout the show, occasionally blowing acrid fumes into the stalls. But one senses another more pleasing smell. There’s the whiff of a big hit here too.

The Palace was the first London theatre Phil ever visited (the original London cast of Jesus Christ Superstar if you’re wondering. You can look up the year yourself, he’s too embarrassed to say) and he’s visited many times since but never noticed a small museum (in a corridor off the stalls bar) dedicated to posters and production shots of previous Palace productions. Fascinating and worth a look if you’ve never seen it.


11 Responses to “Review – The Commitments, Palace Theatre”

  1. David Reid Says:

    Ah I saw it last week and the review is spot on. Loved it and its rough around the edgesness and Donelly was fabulous as were the three backing singers.

  2. Sandown Says:

    “The latest report that 16-19 year olds are more likely to attend the theatre than any other age group.”

    That age-group, and younger, attend the theatre in school or college groups, mostly paid for by the taxpayer. Some of them behave well. Others are a total nightmare for theatre-goers who have paid for their own tickets, and want to watch the show without persistent noise and disruption.

    Their teachers do nothing to prevent it, being themselves products of our state education system.

    • SD Says:

      I, my children and the majority of their friends have gone through the state education system, and not one behaves disruptively in the theatre or cinema.

      Not a fan of the sweeping statement, Sandown, so here is a precise criticism: the most irritating person I’ve been near in a theatre had a braying, public school voice and an equally prominent sense of his entitlement to use it whenever he wished to. And extremely dull opinions….

    • cunningfox Says:

      Hear, hear. Keep the chav kids out!

      • Karen Says:

        Where did you get the idea that tax payers buy theatre tickets for students? Not the case; students have to buy their own tickets, just like everyone else. Which is why, in the current recession, it has become more and more difficult to organise trips to the theatre. As for behaviour: I’m a Drama teacher and I would never tolerate selfish or disruptive behaviour from my students. Unfortunately, they have on occasion encountered rudeness from joyless adults in the audience. I still insist that they respond with polite dignity!

  3. We were there on the the second night. First half lacks pace of the second but still works well. Outstanding moments include ‘that head but’ and everything that Decco and Jimmy bring to the stage. Denis Grindel will be a name we will hear more of. Surreal cowboy scene needs to be reworked a bit. Overall brilliant and a must see- one of the best west end nights out around.

  4. Richie Madano Says:

    I saw a preview last night (Oct 2nd) and I was pretty disappointed. I think it just doesn’t work because it isn’t a true musical. In the first half, I was frustrated because we only get snatches of songs, which were generally perforated by some of the least funny dialogue I have heard in years. The second half was a lot better as it contained much more music, but the characters seemed to act without any real motivation – for example it was never really clear why the first drummer, “Animal”, hated Decco so much. And the potential romance between Jimmy and Imelda seemed to spring out of nowhere at the end.

    For the finale, they break down the fourth wall and perform as a band to the audience. I completely agree that this was the right thing to do, but it showed that aside from Decco, the band were good performers but not great ones. In the West-End we have been spoilt by some of the greatest performers of all time – but unfortunately most of this cast wouldn’t be counted among them. Don’t get me wrong, I loved their energy and vibrancy and for the most part of the show when they are in a pub band they are perfectly cast. But as a band for a West-End show, they are not really up to it. However, they will probably improve over time, so maybe in a few months this part of the show will be better. I also thought that they should have ended on a much more upbeat tune than “Try a little Tenderness” to make sure the audience went home with a song spinning round in their heads.

    The dialogue was atrocious and the direction particularly lack-lustre. All the dialogue scenes seemed very stilted and under-rehearsed and once or twice I wasn’t sure if meaningless pauses were due to poor direction or the actors had forgotten their lines. They really need to work on the non-musical parts of the play which I seriously hope they’ll do before opening night.

    The characters lacked any motivation for their actions and the darkness that made the original film balance so well against the comedy was completely missing.

    With a lot more work there could be a really good show here – it needs to be a lot tighter, have rewrite of the painfully unfunny dialogue, big up the music a bit more and have a really big foot stomping production number at the end.

  5. Andrew Whetstone Says:

    Sorry but I have decided to shy away from this production
    as I did not enjoy the film and therefore will leave this alone
    instead I went to see The Light Princess now previewing at the National’s Lyttelton Theatre for a fair preview price of £20.

    The show is based on a fairy tale by one George Macdonald who appears to have been a contemporary
    of Lewis carroll but sadly at age 61 I have not heard of this writer until this production,so full marks for raising awareness on a fairly obscure fairy tale writer,at least to me.

    The show falls somewhere between Wicked and Into the
    Woods but alas the score never reaches the tunefullness
    of the scores of those two shows and is by one Toni Amos
    a well respected songstress/composer/pianist whose work I have also not come across in my musical travels.

    It is directed by Marianne Elliott who has built up
    an enviable reputation with productions such as
    War Horse and the Curious Incident etc;

    As the show stands on my viewing the score is not it’s strong point. ..the set very much Victorian toy theatre come to life is inventive with glorious work by acrobats and pupeteers working their balls off.

    No choreography to speak of just some occasional
    foot stomping which has broken out as some St Vitus
    dance epidemic at the National and was also prevelent in Liola.

    Although the Princess flies about defying gravity throughout most of the productions,being held up by acrobats or good old fashioned aerial wires I am sorry to report that the whole enterprise remained very grounded for me.

    • Nick Says:

      Gosh, Andrew Whetstone….who are you that you should leave a half baked review on a play at the Lyttleton instead of the thread about The Commitments? You must be very important…or is that self-important?

      I enjoyed The Commitments a lot…a big lot! Bags of energy…not at all “grounded”.

      • Andrew Whetstone Says:

        Sorry maybe I “lost the thread”…there is no self importance at all and was picking up the point made generally about the
        cost of previews.

        I said that i had chosen not to see the commitments through choice as I simply did not enjoy the film from way back.

        A question of personal choice and taste I guess but enlarging the point about affordable previews i mentioned
        The Light Princess as I had attended a preview of this show
        that evening and it was very much in my mind so I chose to comment on that production instead ..I do not think that I
        have committed a crime by doing that and if you took time
        to follow what was being said I was referring to the Light
        Princess it was to that production NOT the Commitments that I was referring and it is THAT production that I felt remained grounded…I have no comments to make concerning the Commitments or the quality of that production as I have not seen it and I think I have made the position concerning that above and in the earlier commentary.

  6. stuart heath Says:

    wow wot a show all the cast was brill lead singer was out of this world well done

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