By David Hennessy
Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments is coming to the West End 25 years after being first published with the Dublin author himself adapting it for the stage. Jamie Lloyd, winner of the Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in 2008 for his work on Alexi Kaye Campbell’s The Pride and named Rising Star by the Daily Telegraph in 2009, will be at the helm. Jamie has recently been directing James McAvoy and Claire Foy in MacBeth and is currently directing John Simm and Simon Russell Beale in Harold Pinter’s The Hothouse. The Irish World caught up with Jamie at the recent launch of The Commitments.
What was it that attracted Jamie to this production? “I’ve always wanted to be in a band and this is the next best thing. I like the character of Jimmy Rabbitte being a kind of manager and that’s kind of what it felt like in casting. We saw thousands of people, literally thousands of people. They all play the instruments, most of them are Irish they’re all the right ages, between 18 and 24, which is incredible so we’re talking about genuine raw talent. I think that’s really exciting. That’s the thing, when producer Phil McIntyre was talking to me about it, that’s what he said he wanted. He didn’t want a whitewashed, polished West End version. It needs to have all the honesty and integrity of the novel.”
Those expecting a stage version of the 1991 film will be mistaken as Jamie explains: “We haven’t based ours on the film at all. The film strays from the book. Roddy has absolutely gone back to his original creation but more importantly, and this was really the clincher for why I wanted to do it: Because he’s doing his own adaptation and it really has all the energy of the original piece of work. It’s not so strict, it’s not a word for word stage version of the novel. It’s its own entity and I think that was really important in terms of casting as well: That we just found the appropriate people for this particular version. They’ll look very different and feel very different (from the same roles in the film) and even from the novel. It’s got to exist in its own right. Otherwise there’s no point in doing it. You might as well just watch the film. It’s got to feel like a unique live experience.”
Three quarters of those already cast in this production are Irish, several coming from open auditions in Dublin, and many will be making their West End debut. It was important for Jamie to have real Irish people in such an Irish story: “For authenticity and integrity, it felt like it would be really inappropriate to have a load of English people struggling to do a Dublin accent which is a notoriously difficult accent to pull off anyway. But also Roddy writes like real people speak. It’s rough and ready and I think you need the real deal to pull it off.”
Used to directing Hollywood stars, Jamie is not concerned by the production’s use of unproven talent: “I hope they’ll be excited about discovering new talent. Clearly there’s a desire, with Britain’s Got Talent and all the rest of it, to see people from the street making good. I think that’s what we’re doing and it’s absolutely what the novel was about.”
Another Irish musical, Once is currently showing just down the road from The Palace Theatre. Has Jamie been taking an interest in its success? “I think Once is an exquisite piece of work and in a way it’s brilliant that we’re on the same street so we can have a bit of a scrap. I’ll be taking bets on who’s gonna win. But in a way, that’s a kinda quiet, lyrical, exquisite piece and I think ours is a sweatier, scruffier, rough and ready kind of little brother down the road.”
For the full interview, see the May 11 print edition of The Irish World.