Jamie Lloyd will direct a new stage version of Roddy Doyle’s much-loved The Commitments at the Palace theatre this summer, more than 25 years after the Booker Prize-winning writer’s acclaimed book was published.
Previews of the soul music-packed show will begin on 21 September with all tickets half-price until the production opens on 8 October. Following the cut price period, The Commitments will continue its aim of making the show as inclusive as possible offering more than 10,000 tickets for its initial one year booking period for just £10.
Telling the story of Jimmy Rabitte, a young working-class music fan who shapes an un likely bunch of amateur musicians into an amazing live act, The Commitments, which was made into a successful film in 1991, charts the tale of an unlikely soul band from hopeful auditions to its near end when the backing singers are all getting off with the middle-aged horn legend, the singer has entered the Eurovision Song Contest and the saxophone player is veering into dangerous jazz territory.
Director Lloyd and Doyle, who has written the book for the stage production and described himself as “giddy” to be bringing the story to the theatre, were on hand to offer more details about the show at a press launch held at the Palace theatre today.
Lloyd, whose most recent show Macbeth plays at the Trafalgar Studios as part of his Trafalgar Transformed season until Saturday, compared his role on the production so far to that of the lead character Jimmy Rabitte, saying: “I’ve always wanted to be in a band and actually this [directing the show] is, in a way, the next best thing. I quite like the idea of, like the character of Jimmy Rabitte, being a manager of this band in rehearsals in many ways, and that’s what it has felt like in casting.”
The casting process has involved seeing “literally thousands” of potential cast members, resulting in a mix of “new, fresh and exciting talent”, with many of the company making their West End debuts and aged under 21. Speaking about the importance of the fact that around three-quarters of the cast will be from the show’s native Ireland and all are talented musicians, Lloyd said: “We’re talking about genuine raw talent, and I think that’s really exciting. When Phil McIntyre, the producer, was talking to me about it, he said that that’s what he wanted. He didn’t want a white washed polished version, a West End or musical version, it needs to have all the honesty and integrity of the novel, and I think that’s what we’re pulling off in terms of casting.”
Commenting on the show’s dynamic pricing, the director said he had been inspired by his season at the Trafalgar Studios, which offers tickets for £15 every Monday, saying: “At the Trafalgar it’s really exciting to see a real diverse audience and it gives a whole new energy to the building and certainly I would love to see a younger crowd discovering this music, many of them I guess for the first time, because it is sensational stuff. I come from a low income background, a lot of my family have never seen any of my productions, so in a way it’s brilliant as a show that celebrates the working classes to say ‘come on, it is available to all and you’re welcome’ and hopefully it won’t feel like what they perceive – and certainly a lot of families might perceive – as being a stuffy, formal experience, it can be as exciting as going to see any kind of rock gig.”
While the story famously features many well-known soul songs, the line-up of popular tunes to be included in the stage show is still to be confirmed, although members of the press were today assured that Mustang Sally will definitely be included in the final set list.
Also announced today was the creative team that joins Lloyd and Doyle in the company. Lloyd’s regular collaborator designer Soutra Gilmour will be joined by lighting designer Jon Clark, choreographer Ann Yee, sound designer Rory Madden and musical supervisor Alan Williams.
The Commitments will open at the Palace theatre following long-running musical Singin’ In The Rain’s planned closure on 9 June and Derren Brown’s return to the London stage, Infamous, which plays a limited season from 24 June to 17 August.
"It needs to have all the honesty and integrity of the novel, and I think that’s what we’re pulling off in terms of casting.”