The Commitments – a seriously soulful night at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal

The Commitments review by Susie Daniels

It was a night of two halves. The amazing, show-stopping, crowd-pleasing second half. And the first half leading up to it.

Let’s throw caution to the wind and start with the second half! First, it must be noted that it should be impossible for any show – starring singers worth their salt – to not be a hit off the back of the best Motown songs ever written. Try A Little Tenderness, River Deep, Mountain High, Knock On Wood, Mustang Sally and Papa Was a Rolling Stone to name but a few. The classic hits that, with the right amount of soul, can leave you energised and elated with new found gospel spirit.
Soul does that to you though it has to be noted that I am the converted so winning me over with soul was always going to be an easy ride. And by the way, when lead actor Brian Gilligan shouted out to the audience whilst grinning, ‘I’d like to ride every single one of you’ suddenly Soul Train took on a whole new meaning!

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I had always loved The Commitments film for all its raw, naive, working class appeal. It’s the tale of a Dubliner who decides in the eighties that it’s not Human League or any other synth pop sound that’s where it’s at…it’s sex-selling Soul baby Soul! So Jimmy Rabbitte (Andrew Linnie) brings together a motley crew of singers and musicians to transform them into what he describes as the best band in Ireland. There’s tantrums as three girls who become the backing singers each vie for the attention of the pony-tail clad middle-aged trumpet-playing member of the band who calls everyone ‘brother’ in a peace-loving kind of a way.

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There’s a lot going on in the band’s daily rehearsals including strops and an ever-frustrating scenario where the egotistical lead singer Deco (played superbly by Brian Gilligan) is habitually late. He has set his sights on going solo and what better way to sink, oops, I mean, swim than by entering the Eurovison Song contest!

Throw in unpredictable Billy ‘The Animal’ Mooney as drummer and a saxophonist who, dare we say it, has tendencies towards jazz (wash your mouth out!) and suddenly the ensemble has become somewhat dysfunctional.

Jimmy’s ‘Da’, played by loveable Kevin Kennedy (Curly Watts from Corrie) is sat on the sofa in the Rabbitte (seriously, who thought up this name!) home listening to the boys in their room dreaming of big things and all the while Da is throwing one-liners and humorous quips throughout.

The Commitments is slow-paced at the start and the ever-eager audience have to wait until the second half to become truly immersed in the soulful songs that brought them out in their hoardes on a Monday night but for me the first half of the show is only really there to contrast and reveal the transformation to a credible soul band by the second half.

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Brian Gilligan’s performance as Deco is truly astounding – that boy has energy and soul in vat-filled quantities – and far be it from me to moan but I would have been happiest stretching out the second half by two hours and purely listening to ‘The Commitments post-rehearsals, just gigging. The crescendo second half is worth the wait I promise you!

The Commitments is running at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal until December 30th.