REVIEW: THE COMMITMENTS (Liverpool Empire) ★★★

This week, the most aggressive of musical theatre comedies has rock and rolled into the Liverpool Empire. Following a successful run of over two years at the Palace Theatre in London’s West End, the show has embarked on its first UK Tour.

The Commitments is based on the 1987 novel of the same name and the movie adaptation from 1991, and all of these incarnations were penned by Roddy Doyle. It tells the story of a gaggle of foul-mouthed misfits from the North Side of Dublin in the mid-1980s. Band Manager, Jimmy, aims to bring the soul revolution to the bars and clubs of Dublin, and so instils his passion for the genre into all of the dysfunctional band members he accrues; from the erratic leading man whose voice carries the whole group, to the bible-bashing lover-man trumpeter who works his way through the three female backing singers. As expected, this collection of loose cannons makes for explosive energy in the band and ultimately they go their separate ways.

Brian Gilligan as lead singer Deco is, rightly, the star of the show. He flits without warning from the lazy and awkward band member in rehearsals to the manic wild man-behind-the-microphone. However, when casting this role you must tempt the audience to forgive Deco’s bad behaviour when they hear him sing, and Gilligan delivers impressive vocals in bucketloads. Andrew Linnie, as Jimmy, keeps the show moving along in a confident and natural portrayal of the master of ceremonies, mentor and peace-keeper. In fact, the whole cast work hard and deliver powerhouse vocals.

The problem with the show is that, in its translation from screen to stage, the story has fallen by the wayside in favour of packing in as many songs as possible, with the necessary information conveyed in short and stinted scenes to link them. The numbers do not further the characters’ journey; they are all slotted in as performance pieces by the make-believe band, and are often followed by huge dramatic outbursts, arguments and full-out brawls that seem to manifest out of nowhere once the well-deserved applause has settled. There is not enough room in the limited script for the rest of the bandmates and the minor characters in the show to develop.

Similarly, the translation from London to Tour has not been so successful, with a number of clunky set changes and sound issues. They do not ruin the evening but contribute to the disruptions to the flow of the performance, especially in the first act.

The saving grace is that, while the scenes are not the strongest, the music includes some of the greatest songs ever written, and it is the soul sound that makes the show work and propel the audience to their feet at the end. In fact, the moment when the show is most successful is in the final fifteen minutes, when it finally succumbs to pressure and gives us the concert performance we have been teased with throughout.

With the opportunity to sing and dance along to some of their favourite songs including Mustang Sally, Proud Mary and Try A Little Tenderness, fans of the cult movie will not be disappointed.

Reviewed by Tate James

The Commitments runs at the Liverpool Empire Theatre until January 21st 2017


Watch my interview with Brian Gilligan from 2015 when he played the role of Deco in the West End production of The Commitments

The Commitments Tour Dates

16 – 21 January
Liverpool Empire

23 – 28 January
Belfast Opera House

31 Jan – 4 February
Southampton Mayflower

6 – 11 February
Newcastle Theatre Royal

13 – 18 February
York Grand Opera House

20 – 25 February
Bristol Hippodrome

27 Feb – 5 March
Edinburgh Playhouse

7 – 11 March
Aberdeen His Majesty’s Theatre

13 – 18 March
Birmingham Alexandra Theatre

20 – 25 March
Canterbury Marlow Theatre

27 March – 8 April
Manchester Palace Theatre

10 – 15 April
Cardiff Millennium

17 – 22 April
Woking New Victoria Theatre

24 – 29 April
Plymouth Theatre Royal

1 – 6 May
Southend Cliffs Pavilion

8 – 13 May
Bradford Alhambra Theatre


Photos: Johan Persson