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The Commitments at Milton Keynes Theatre

Published by: Alison Smith on 2nd Nov 2016 | View all blogs by Alison Smith

The Commitments at Milton Keynes Theatre

 Reviewed by Alison Smith 

The best- selling novel, The Commitments, was written by Roddy Doyle in 1987. The musical is faithful to the book thanks to Roddy Doyle as the executive producer, while Caroline Jay Ranger is the director.

The set, designed by Soutra Gilmour, reflects the lives of a group of unemployed, Irish youngsters from city sink estates; the scene is grey – the sky, the buildings, their futures. Their lives centre on dole queues, spit and sawdust pubs and seedy community halls, but the set windows open to reveal brighter rooms within, a metaphor for music opening up their world to places beyond the Liffey. There are light moments to brighten the scene – a small Christmas tree, a red scooter,   Dublin showers - thanks to a man with a hose pipe.

The teenagers are a mismatched crew. Music mad Jimmy Rabbitte, (Andrew Linnie) tries to start a band; he advertises, he holds auditions, which come to nothing. So he decides to start the band with people he knows, and that is the beginning of The Commitments – committed to Soul music. Standing out  amongst the motley crew of twelve are Joey ‘The Lips’ Fagan ( Alex McMorran) – a trumpet player, teacher and old lecher, and the lead singer, Deco ( Brian Gilligan), a dislikeable, arrogant brute, saved by his one gift – a strong, soulful voice. It is Deco who eventually causes the band to split up after much water has flown along that famous dirty river and after many arguments about sex and Soul music. The band’s language is funny, crude and coarse; there are ‘feckings’ galore, but the music compensates, for when the cast sings they are a joy. The female interest for the boys in the band are Natalie (Amy Peston), Imelda (Leah Penston) and Bernie (Christina Tedders). These girls have great vocal ranges and all the right moves for backing singers.

The story does not have a happy ending; the music contract does not materialise and fortune is not made. The members of the band disperse and Joey goes back to America. The one positive outcome is a blossoming relationship between Jimmy and Imelda. Who knows where that may lead? 

But what music!  There must be around twenty Soul classics, including River Deep Mountain High, Try a Little Tenderness and What Becomes of the Broken Hearted, all performed with great emotion. In fact it is the songs which are the saving grace. When the story has run its course the audience is presented with a great medley with Brian Gilligan, no longer the self-centred Deco, centre stage and belting out excellent renditions of soul songs. 

The Commitments is at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 5th November 

0844 871 7652 

Booking fee applies




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