REVIEW: Charles Hutchinson’s verdict on the revival of Roddy Doyle’s Dublin soul musical The Commitments ****  

Ian McIntosh’s Deco: A soul voice to be in heard in the midnight hour…or night and day at the Grand Opera House this week. Picture: Ellie Kurttz

 Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments, Grand Opera House, York, until Saturday, 7.30pm nightly plus 2.30pm, Thursday and Saturday. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or

RODDY Doyle has resisted any temptation to update his 1980s’ story of the “hardest-working band in Dublin” for its first tour in five years.

“The vibrancy is still there but so is the tension caused by lack of communication,” he reasons. “For instance, will Deco, the obnoxious lead singer, turn up on time? These days, you’d track him down on your mobile in no time at all. But there wasn’t that option in the late-’80s.”

Back then, he chose Sixties’ music – Motown and Memphis soul – for his young, working-class band because “at the time, it felt timeless”. “Thirty-five years later, I was right,” he says.

What’s more, he went for a “a big band with a brass section and [female] backing vocals, as opposed to three or four young men that was the norm back then”. Right choice number two, as confirmed by a passer-by’s terse reaction to three young men busking Depeche Mode’s 1984 synth anthem Master And Servant: “Sh*te”.

Conor Litten’s jazz-filtering Dean and Stuart Reid’s much trumpeted soul brother Joey The Lips in The Commitments. Picture: Ellie Kurttz

The songs of Otis, Wilson, Marvin, Aretha and co are so familiar, more popular than ever, that we are on first-name terms with their makers. Put a multitude of Motown and Memphis staples in one exuberant show, wrapped inside a Dublin comedy drama full of whimsy, wit, pathos, bluster, booze, banter, too much testosterone and a classic rise and fall arc, and here comes a cracking night out, whatever the year. The craic, writ large and loud as Doyle “captures the rhythm of Dublin kids yapping and teasing and bullying”.

Continuity accompanies this revival in other ways too: from the February 2017 tour visit to the Grand Opera House, Andrew Linnie has stepped up from playing silver-tongued dreamer and putative band manager Jimmy Rabbitte to taking over the director’s chair. Meanwhile, Nigel Pivaro follows another Coronation Street alumnus, Kevin Kennedy, into the role of Jimmy’s Da, forever offering curt advice, slumped over a newspaper in his battered seat beneath the stairs.

Represented by Tim Blazdell’s set design of rundown apartment and garage frontages, The Commitments is set in 1986 in the north side of Dublin, where Jimmy Rabbitte (James Killeen), a visionary manager with the lip of a Malcolm McLaren and the cheek of a Stevo, wishes to build a band on the foundation of his black American soul and blues idols: Redding, Pickett, Gaye and Franklin.

His reasoning: the Irish are the blacks of Europe; Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland; northsiders are the blacks of Dublin, and soul music is the politics of the people; a mantra as familiar as the Choose Life speech in Trainspotting.

Dublin double act: Nigel; Pivaro as Jimmy’s Da, left, and James Killeen as Jimmy Rabbitte. Picture: Ellie Kurttz

The show opens with the first sighting of a Christmas party in York in 2022, as a drunken Deco (Ian McIntosh) bursts into the Regency pub and leaps unsteadily onto a table in his Irish football shirt. This bored factory worker has the sweetest of soul voices – “the voice of God”, as soul brother Joey The Lips will say later – but the attitude of an ass-soul: a Deco heading for a decking.

McIntosh’s incorrigible Deco, rather more of a Celtic dish than Andrew Strong’s Meat Loafian frontman in Alan Parker’s 1991 film, has the swagger and soul fervour of Kevin Rowland in Dexys Midnight Runners’ Projected Passion Revue pomp.

Anything but a Rabbitte in headlights, Jimmy holds auditions with clarity of thought and purpose, the Eighties’ wannabees sent packing in a revolving door of a comical scene, each rapid exit accompanied by a withering word or look from Pivaro’s Jimmy’s Da, eyebrows raised as high as Salvador Dali’s.

The last to join is the mysterious, mystical, scooter-riding soul sage Joey The Lips (a sublime Stuart Reid). Trumpet player to the stars, he may be ageing, but soon Joey will be work his way through the backing singers, Natalie (Eve Kitchingman) pocket dynamo Bernie (Sarah Gardiner) and everyone’s crush, Imelda (Ciara Mackey). Are they a chain of fools? Well, who can resist when Joey tries a little tenderness in grey Dublin town? Oh, and, for the record, their take on Chain Of Fools is fab-u-lous. So too is Think.

Scene stealer: Ronnie Yorke’s ska and scar-loving skinhead bouncer Mickah

Rabbitte strives to spark a Dublin soul revolution with the vim of a Bob Geldof, but such a path to soul salvation can never run smoothly, not when band members are as fractious as Deco and drummer Billy (Ryan Kelly), and scene-stealing bouncer Mickah (Ronnie Yorke) is doing his nut.

Doyle’s narrative is lyrical, colourful, impassioned, fiery, furious and funny, if prone to caricature when painted with broader brush strokes on stage, but like a Mickah punch, The Commitments is a knockout. You may not connect with all the cast of rowdies as there are so many, but you will with the way they play.

Favourite songs this time? Proud Mary, Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone and McIntosh’s rendition of It’s A Thin Line Between Love And Hate, a song to define Deco’s antagonistic character.

If you can’t get no satisfaction, then you ain’t got no soul. Make a commitment to see The Commitments. NOW!

Review by Charles Hutchinson

Make a date to see James Killeen’s Jimmy Rabbitte and Ciara Mackey’s Imelda, in a clinch, in The Commitments. Picture: Ellie Kurttz

Corrie soap bad lad Nigel Pivaro reports back for stage duty in The Commitments after turning his hand to journalism

Father and son: Nigel Pivaro’s cynical Jimmy’s Da and James Killeen’s dreamer Jimmy Rabbitte in The Commitments. Picture: Ellie Kurttz

AFTER switching to the fourth estate for a decade and more, Coronation Street bad lad Nigel Pivaro is putting down the notepad to star in the 2022-2023 tour of The Commitments.

“I’m thrilled to be marking my return to the stage in this production,” he says, ahead of visiting the Grand Opera House, York, from November 7 to 12 in the role of Jimmy Rabbitte’s Da in the Irish musical.

“It’s an iconic story that resonates across the years, about people who, though distant from the music’s origins, find communion and expression in the Motown style. A musical genre which was borne out of oppression and which the characters embrace as their own. The Motown Sound is as vibrant today as it was when it first burst through in the Sixties.”

Thirty-five years have passed since The Commitments first leapt from the pages of Roddy Doyle’s best-selling novel with its story of the hardest-working and most explosive soul band from the northside of Dublin,

The 1991 film and a stage musical ensued. Now comes the latest nine-month British and Irish tour, running from next month to July, directed by Andrew Linnie, who played Dean, the saxophonist, in the original West End production in 2013.

The headline news in his cast list is Pivaro’s stage return at 62. “It came about from [playwright] Jim Cartwright saying, ‘how about coming back in? We miss you, mate,’” says Nigel, who forever will be best known for playing lovable Corrie rogue Terry Duckworth from 1983 to 2012.

Nigel Pivaro: Returning to the stage after a long hiatus when investigative journalism became his primary career

“After Jim said that, I started doing some plays for BBC Radio 4, like The Corrupted with Toby Jones, and some commercials, and then the role of Da was offered to me two and a half years ago. I was chomping at the bit: the chance to stretch my theatre legs again in my first theatre role since Bouncers [in 2003].

“But then the first Covid lockdown stopped it for a year, and then more lockdowns put it back another year. Just great! It had been a bit of a slow start for me getting back in, then just as it was gaining momentum, something extraordinary scuppered it.”

Roll on to autumn 2022 for Pivaro’s first appearance at the Grand Opera House since September 2003, when his hot-headed doorman Judd clashed with a fellow soap bad boy, EastEnders’ John Altman’s pontificating yet pugilistic Lucky Eric in John Godber’s nightclub comedy Bouncers.

“I was away from the business for 15 years after that, training as a journalist after doing a Masters degree in International Relations,” recalls Nigel. “I did my NCTJ [National Council for the Training of Journalists) course in Liverpool, my work experience at the Manchester Evening News, and my first staff job was at the Tameside Reporter.”

Freelance reporting ensued for the Daily Star, the Sunday Mirror, the Daily and Sunday Express, and not least Jane’s Defence and Intelligence Review, reporting on military and security topics.

The poster for the 2022-2023 tour of The Commitments, announcing Coronation Street legend Nigel Pivaro as the star attraction

“I travelled to Ukraine in the first war in 2014 and did three tours there,” says Nigel. “So I did my journalism from the bottom up, pushing my specialist knowledge into my reporting.

“Over the years, I’ve done everything from interviewing ex-Corrie colleagues and stars from other shows to doing research for a Newsnight feature last year on the shortcomings of the Manchester police.”

Hold the front page, Pivaro has a musical to perform in a new commitment to the stage. “I did see The Commitments film, attracted to it by the music, not knowing what to expect, other than it was an Alan Parker movie, and I’d always liked him as a director,” he says.

“I was just knocked out by how the music and the story were woven together, when often musicals are, ‘right, let’s do another song now’. The Commitments has a strong narrative, with the music weaved into that story without it kicking you in the face.”

Pivaro has read Doyle’s book too, “but I’ve not seen the play, so I’ve got no preconceptions about the stage show,” he says.

“What I can say is there’s dramatic tension, there’s humour, and there’s music. What’s not to like?! There’s a big band with loads of characters, sexy girls, sexy boys, with all that tension that can happen between band members, even in a band on the back streets of Dublin, as much as between John, Paul, George and Ringo.”

Roddy Doyle: Writer of The Commitments. Picture: Anthony Woods

For sure, the show will feature such soul staples as Try A Little Tenderness, In The Midnight Hour, Save Me, Mustang Sally, I Heard It Through The Grapevine and I Can’t Turn You Loose.

“This is the music that has provided the soundtrack to our lives, as hits in the Sixties and Seventies, and then being re-played and re-played at weddings and funerals and parties ever since. They are the standards,” says Nigel, who admits to having preferred Sweet, Mud and Gary Glitter, “anything that harked back to rock’n’roll”, in his youth.

Will he be singing in the show? “No, I don’t think I get to sing a song, but Jimmy’s Da is a big Elvis fan, so I do get to do a few bars of Can’t Help Falling In Love, but that’s it,” he says.

The Irish accent will be key too. “I’ve done accents all over the place. That’s my job!” he says. “There are certain accents you find you can do off pat, like Liverpool, being a Manchester kid. This Dublin accent had better be there because we have two weeks there at the Olympia!”

Tickets for the York run: 0844 871 7615 or at For Hull New Theatre’s October 31 to November 5 run: 01482 300306 or

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