Review: The Commitments. (touring) Milton Keynes Theatre

The Commitments

Milton Keynes Theatre

24th October 2022

Marking the 35th anniversary of its source novel, ‘The Commitments’ is back on the road again.  Written by Roddy Doyle (who also wrote the screenplay for the 1991 film adaptation), the story of a group of working-class friends trying to start up a soul band in mid-1980s Dublin has always been popular with audiences, largely thanks to its use of timeless classics from the 1950s and 60s.  Last seen in London in 2015, the show has been touring the UK since September, and plays at Milton Keynes Theatre this week.

After auditioning local talent and finding none, Jimmy (James Killeen) decides to form a band with his mates, including the overly confident Deco (Ian Mcintosh), whose stellar voice comes with an ago to match.  Believing the current 80s music to be a short-lived fad, the band turn their attentions to covering more classic performers (Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Rolling Stones), believing that soul has more meaning and will grant them more lasting popularity.  With practice, the band improves, and start to see local success, but tensions within the band and Deco’s increasing arrogance threaten to ruin everything.

‘The Commitments’ is sold as musical, but the diegetic use of the songs really places it more of a play with music.  This isn’t a show where characters sing what they’re feeling in a non-reality setting, so the narrative is driven solely by the book scenes, which aren’t hugely fleshed out.  The show does feel a little thin on plot and character development (they want to form a band, they do, then they argue), and deeper writing would make it more of a journey.  However, as a music experience (rather than a musical one), ‘The Commitments’ entertains thanks to the inclusion of so many crowd-pleasing classics which are performed brilliantly.

The show looks effectively dated, with Tim Blazdell’s set looking like suitably run-down pubs and houses in 1980s Dublin.  Director Andrew Linnie keeps the piece moving swiftly and cleanly, although the early rehearsal scenes feel static and could use a bit more energy.  Things properly liven up in the show’s final stretch, with the band on full form and delivering one energetic tune after another.  In the end it feels like a concert, which fans of the music will certainly enjoy, though purist musical-theatre fans may come away a little dissatisfied from the lack of investment in the characters.

A talented and likeable cast ensure that a good time is had by all, many of whom also play instruments as well as act.  Ian Mcintosh (recently seen as Galileo in the ‘We Will Rock You’ tour) is superb as Deco, hitting just the right level of arrogance so as not to be unlikeable, and sounds incredible throughout.  He looks exhausted by the end of the show from the level of effort he commits to his vocals, and each of his solos are fantastic, particularly “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”, “It’s A Thin Line Between Love And Hate” and the show-closing “Try A Little Tenderness”.  Ciara Mackey is also a standout as backing singer Imelda, showing off some impressive pipes in “You Keep Me Hanging On” and “Save Me”. 

Short on plot but with entertainment value to spare thanks to its music and cast, ‘The Commitments’ is an uplifting dose of nostalgia and a celebration of a catalogue of songs which will never age.  It’s not a musical, but taken as a play-turned-concert with a near-faultless soundtrack, it’s a fun way to spend a couple of hours pleasing your ears, if not particularly your brain.

‘The Commitments’ runs at the Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 29th October, before continuing on its UK tour.

Performance runtime 2 hours 25 minutes including interval

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