Stage review: The Commitments, Palace Theatre
IN A NUTSHELL
Roddy Doyle has re-created his tale of Dublin soul band as a full-on gig with banter.
Roddy Doyle's re-working of his '80s cult novel calls to mind the Blues Brothers more than Alan Parker's rough-edged 1991 film.
Doyle wisely dumps his dramatist's credentials early (although not quickly enough to kill the lame opening).
He then becomes a dodgem car cowboy, orchestrating near misses, wrong turns, whiplash smashes and screams-if-you-wanna-go-faster.
The story of how "the hardest working band in the world" came together, stuck together for the soul and the snogging and then imploded through artistic differences and ego trouble is the spine.
And Jimmy Rabbitte (Denis Grindel) is the lynchpin. His frenetic, hoarse shouting seems as much aimed at keeping the story on track as soothing the demonic personality clashes within his band.
He has ambitions to recreate "the people's music" of soul while his restless conscripts each have their own agendas involving jazz, chips and the Eurovision Song Contest.
The production flirts with anarchy throughout and the raucous, foot-stomping soul music emerges - almost by chance - from a seemingly random collision of instrument, character and community hall.
Everybody shouts their lines - it's necessary to be heard above the cacophony - no backdrop settles for long and director Jamie Lloyd sets a blistering pace that never allows time for reflection or reprieve.
In the end, and mostly in the second half, the production shrugs off any pretence at story and character and collapses in a heap where the spirit is yearning to take it - to the craic.
It is a "the people's music for the people" and the audience doubles as Dubliners. On your feet. Clap those hands. Test those pipes.
Ultimately, this is a gig with banter. The performers are more comfortable with their setpiece solos than their storylines.
And when there is Killian Donnelly on form as Deco, the grunt with the voice of a grubby angel then all else seems superfluous.
Besides there's What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted, Heard It Through The Grapevine, Mr Pitiful, Try A Little Tenderness. As veteran soulman Joey "The Lips" (Ben Fox) would say - they're all the story you need.
Critics have harrumphed, expecting a kitchen sink drama. Forget it. This is a party. And if there is a more life-affirming, chaotic jumble of a party in the West End, I'd be amazed.
Expect not coachfuls of Chichester grannies outside the Palace. Instead, look for the mini-Marvin Gayes tripping down Charing Cross Road seeking a Guinness and a grapevine.
Booking until Jan 26, Palace Theatre, £10-62.50, commitmentslondon.com.