by Roddy Doyle.
Palace Theatre 109-113 Shaftesbury Avenue W1D 5AY To 11 February 2014.
Tue–Sun 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 3pm.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 874 0790.
Review: William Russell 9 October.
Roddy Doyle’s novel about 1980s Dublin teenagers in a fictional slum who form a band to escape their world was funny and had lots to say about the social condition of Ireland at the time. In 1991 Alan Parker directed a fine film based on the book, which involved one in the teenagers’ lives. Here they are ciphers.
The ponderous set makes clear they live in a high-rise slum, but what their hopes and aspirations are, who they are, why we should care for them remains a mystery. They could be preparing to audition for the X Factor or Ireland’s Got Leprechauns, not escaping a bleak poverty-stricken world through music.
The novel had relevance to 1980s Ireland, the film to the 1990s anywhere. This version is relevant to nothing because it says nothing. As well as Doyle’s book, part of the problem is Jamie Lloyd’s direction – the first half is outstandingly muddled and dramatically limp.
What saves the excessively loud evening is that the hugely-talented cast perform the songs – superb soul numbers including ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, ‘Satisfaction’, ‘Mustang Sally’ and ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ – exceedingly well.
As the neurotic lead singer Killian Donnelly gets the best numbers and sings his heart out splendidly. It all gets the audience to its feet at the end, but as act two is essentially one long soul concert and they are encouraged to do so with much arm-waving by Denis Grindel’s youthful impresario Jimmy Rabitte, it is more wanting to join the dance than acclaim the show. Grindel is also very irritating. As he struts about trying to be endearing one feels like clobbering him with a shamrock.
At least it is not just another juke-box musical, a modern West End staple in which a collection of songs are stapled to a fragile excuse for a plot. Rather it is a poorly constructed play with very good songs, and nice work from Joe Woolmer as a menacing skinhead and Ben Fox’s trumpet-playing advocate of soul who inspires the band and gets off with all the women, much to the boys’ fury.
Bernie: Jessica Cervi.
Deco: Killian Donnelly.
Derek: Mark Dugdale.
Joey: Ben Fox.
Billy/Dave: Brian Gilligan.
Jimmy: Denis Grindel.
Dean: Andrew Linnie.
Natalie: Stephanie McKeon.
Imelda: Sarah O’Connor.
James: Barnaby Southgate.
Mickah: Joe Woolmer.
Outspan: Mathew Wycliffe.
Sap/Ensemble: Padraig Dooney.
Audition: Ensemble: Christopher Fry.
Canteen Man/Ensemble: Ryan Gibb.
Ensemble Dance Captain: Natalie Hope.
Jimmy’s Da/Caretaker: Sean Kerns.
Sharon: Clodagh Long.
Ray/Ensemble: Ian McIntosh.
Audition/ Ensemble: John McLarnon.
Alice/Ensemble: Riona O’Connor.
Folk Mass Girl/Ensemble: Sharon Sexton.
Hot Press/Ensemble: Thomas Snowdon.
Barman/Ensemble: Glenn Speers.
Audition/Ensemble: Alex Tomkins.
Jimmy’s Ma/Outspan’s May: Julia Worsley.
Deca (at Sunday evening performance): Ian McIntosh.
Director: Jamie Lloyd.
Set and Costumes: Soutra Gilmour.
Lighting: Jon Clark.
Sound: Rory Madden.
Musical Supervisor/ Arranger: Alan Williams.
Musical Director: Alan Berry.
Choreographer: Ann Yee.
Dialect Coaches: Penny Dyer, Zabariad Salam.
Fight director: Kate Waters.