Advertisement

The Commitments Comes To The West End

24 April 2013 | Charlie Kenber

“I think within us all there’s the wish to be in a band,” he says. “A group of young people trying to form a band – it’s a story that’s probably been going on ever since the first guitar was plugged in, and I don’t think it’ll change."

It is over two decades since the film adaptation of Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments hit cinema screens. It is even longer since the book on which it was based became a best seller. But now, twenty-five years on, the stage version is coming to London, promising to be a raw, energetic experience quite unlike any other West End production.

Set in 1980s Dublin, the story follows Jimmy Rabitte, a young working-class man striving to form a soul band out of a group of amateur musicians. Off the back of a classified ad in a local paper his band – The Commitments – is formed, but just as they begin to improve and build a reputation the group implodes from jealousies and split interests.

The director, Jamie Lloyd (who most recently has been directing Macbeth at the Trafalgar Studios with James McAvoy), describes the show as “a great celebration of youth”, with “all the hopes and fears of being a young person in a city and making a go at something”. The story explores “all the great possibilities and also all the missed opportunities that go with that: having the balls to go out and make something of your life”. This creates a raw dynamic, which Jamie aims to reproduce: “hopefully it will feel rough and ready,” he tells us, “rather than some fableised version of the 1980s. It can’t be polished”. There will not be any miming in the production, with the cast genuinely playing their own instruments, but he says, “if there are a few bum notes I think that will add to the charm of it!”

For everyone in the production team, it was important that the story’s youthful energy was reflected by a cast of new, untested performers. Roddy Doyle, the author, feels that the film adaptation’s success lay in its young cast. “It didn’t have well known faces pretending they were kids in Dublin” he tells us, “and I think this will be the same: I think it would be a mistake if you had a whole load of familiar people.” True to this plan the cast are mostly under 21, with three quarters coming from Ireland, and several from open auditions. Indeed, as Jamie says, “many of them have never been in a play before, which gives it a raw energy that I think will be appropriate and addictive”. He describes The Commitments as “the sweatier, scrappier younger brother down the street” from the more reflective, gentler (although “exquisite”) Once, which opened recently.

The production also aims to attract a fresh, younger audience to the theatre, partly by halving the price of preview tickets, as well as selling 100,000 tickets over the first year’s performances for just £10. Jamie tells us, “I love the idea of introducing these brilliant soul songs and this incredible story by Roddy to a younger audience. It’s a great celebration of the working classes. The way that he writes is so immediate and so accessible…there’s an incredible energy that comes from these really famous songs that I hope will be compelling to all audiences.” For Roddy, music is key, “I think within us all there’s the wish to be in a band,” he says. “A group of young people trying to form a band – it’s a story that’s probably been going on ever since the first guitar was plugged in, and I don’t think it’ll change."

After meeting a number of writers, Roddy ultimately decided to adapt The Commitments himself, a massive twenty-seven years after he finished the novel. “I have no idea what I was like back then” he explains, “I have no idea what made me write individual lines and I hadn’t read the book in more than two decades. It didn’t feel like my own work because it was so long ago, and the characters just seemed so different.” A certain amount of updating was required: “the way people speak changes…but actually I was quite surprised that there was a timeless element to most of the dialogue. Most of the lines you could almost superimpose today and they’d work”. The stage version then, although clearly following the same narrative, is a standalone piece. “He has gone back to his novel”, Jamie clarifies, “but he’s not been really ruthlessly strict by absolutely staying true to that original work; he’s kind of created a whole new version.” With such a successful film, the challenge has been to provide an original experience: indeed Jamie has tried to ignore it because “if you try and do a carbon copy of the film you might as well ask audiences to go and spend four quid on a DVD instead of coming to see the show, so you’ve got to create a separate entity that’s very unique in and of itself”.

Fresh from directing Macbeth, Jamie is currently in rehearsals for Harold Pinter’s The Hothouse, but he sees similarities in all three projects. “There’s a link between Shakespeare and Pinter and any show that has music in it because they’re all heightened forms of expression.” In any case the music is atypical, and not only because of its genre: “I don’t think this is a musical”, he tells us, “we haven’t had to shoehorn any of the songs into the narrative: they absolutely exist as they did in the original novel, because you’re following the journey of this band from start to finish.”

This new production then promises to inject a raw dynamism into the West End, offering a great night out with excellent music supported by a moving narrative. Certainly worth catching for theatregoers new and old.

The Commitments opens at the Palace Theatre on 8th October 2013, with half-price previews running 21st September – 7th October.

To get you in the mood check out ‘Mustang Sally’ from the film.
 

Advertisement

Most popular

What to See at The Cinema
What to See at The Cinema
Advertisement
Top Theatre of the Week in London
Top Theatre of the Week in London
Advertisement
Top Exhibitions of the Week in London
Top Exhibitions of the Week in London
Advertisement
A Guide to the Best Lidos in London
A Guide to the Best Lidos in London
Top 5 Vegan Sausage Rolls in London
Top 5 Vegan Sausage Rolls in London
Top Gigs of the Week in London
Top Gigs of the Week in London

Your inbox deserves a little culture! Get our monthly newsletter

Advertisement