Tuesday, 13 December 2016

The Commitments

Theatre Royal, Glasgow
Four stars

Tanked-up show-offs should take care if they do a turn at their works Christmas do this year. If Roddy Doyle's stage play of his 1987 novel made into a hit film by Alan Parker four years later is anything to go by, any would-be pop svengali in the room might sign them up to become lead singer of the hardest working band in Dublin. That's how young hustler Jimmy gets vain-glorious Deco to join his fledgling combo, anyway. Doyle's play, mind you, harks back to a time before karaoke took over the pubs and begat X Factor style TV talent shows on which anyone can be famous for five minutes.

Caroline Jay Ranger's touring production of Doyle's West End smash hit takes full advantage of the play's period 1980s setting, as Andrew Linnie's Jimmy navigates his way through a world full of back-street chancers high on glossy pop tunes to manufacture the ultimate party show-band. What Jimmy understands most of all is the sheer dramatic power of soul, and how the form's contrary mix of heartbreak and euphoria can both reflect and transcend lives.

Doyle puts everyday flesh on such a notion, so the fistful of classics played live by the cast become more than mere window-dressing. Instead, the songs become a vital backdrop to a familiar tragi-comic fable of of ego, ambition and sexual indiscretion without ever sounding naff. The cast of thirteen are on terrific form in a show that taps into a demotic that's as colourful as its soundtrack. It ends as it must, however, with a full-on soul revue finale that lays bare the people's music in all its democratic joy.

The Herald, December 14th 2016

ends

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