Roddy Doyle interview: 'when a character says “Fuck off” it is actually affectionate'

The Irish author explains how his hit novel 'The Commitments' made it to the West End

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Booker-winning Irish novelist and playwright Roddy Doyle hit the big time while he was still an English teacher with his 1986 novel ‘The Commitments’, which tells the story of a group of young down-and-outs in Dublin who form a soul band. Twenty-seven years, a hit film adaptation and a just published sequel (‘The Guts’) later, he’s finally decided to adapt his bestseller into a musical.

Is it a coincidence that you’re staging ‘The Commitments’ just after the Dublin-set musical ‘Once’ became a big hit?
‘We were working on “The Commitments” for years before ‘Once’ opened on Broadway in 2011. But it’s encouraging that it has become so successful. I’ll be rooting for it too because I taught a 12-year-old Enda Walsh – who wrote the musical – in my first-ever secondary school class. And Glen Hansard, who wrote the music, played Outspan in the film of “The Commitments”.'

Is it true you turned down offers for a musical when the film came out?
‘At the time I was more than busy, and while “The Commitments” movie was a fantastic experience, I didn’t want to be defined by it. It was a bit overwhelming, to be honest, going from being a quiet secondary school teacher to being asked to do things that I had no interest in doing.’

Why did you agree to a musical of ‘The Commitments’ now?
‘I began to produce more work, and then some years ago my older children saw the film and really enjoyed it and I began to feel a bit proprietorial about it. I didn’t intend to write the script, but eventually I just thought I’d have a bash. I also went to a few musicals which I found revealing. “Jersey Boys” was one: I loved the way the songs wrote the story.’

Musical audiences might not be used to the amount of swearing and Dublin slang in the show…
‘Perhaps – I don’t know. I don’t remember the word “fuck” being in “The Lion King”… But it would be hard to justify the script without it. The tone of the language is much more important to my mind than the words, so when a character says “Fuck off” it is actually affectionate.’

See 'The Commitments' at the Palace Theatre

With Irish indie musical 'Once' effortlessly wooing the West End, the timing is ripe for a stage adaptation of Roddy Doyle's comic 1987 novel about a music obsessive forming a soul band in working class Dublin. The Booker-winning author has himself adapted the script, with Jamie Lloyd, fresh from directing James McAvoy in 'Macbeth', commandeering a cast of up-and-comers. The 1991 film adaptation was a monster hit – can this follow in its footsteps.

  1. Palace Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue, W1D 5AY
  2. Wed Apr 16 - Sun Sep 14
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