Brian Gilligan takes over as lead role Deco, John Currivan now stars as Billy Mooney and Sam Fordham is Mickah.
In these straitened times, nothing gets bums on West End seats like a stage adaptation of a blockbuster film or novel. And this show, of course, comes trailing both: Roddy Doyle’s 1987 novel about a motley group of working-class Irish lads and lasses who form a raucous soul band; and Alan Parker’s 1991 mega-hit film version.
Among the growing crop of film-to-stage adaptations, there are many that smack of cynicism (stand up, ‘The Bodyguard’). No such criticism can be levelled here. This is a handsome production, assembled by a talented team: Doyle wrote the stage adaptation, and designer Soutra Gilmour is one of the best in the business − her set does a brilliant job of rooting the show in 1980s working-class Dublin, with dingy launderettes and garage rehearsal rooms sliding on and off stage beneath an estate’s looming façade.
Director Jamie Lloyd − fresh from acclaimed productions of ‘Macbeth’ and ‘The Pride’− runs the show at a sparky pace, with the action often taking place in several areas of the stage at once. It’s all impressively slick, and the cast are fantastic − it’s impossible not to get swept up in their high-energy renditions of soul classics, from ‘Knock on Wood’ to ‘Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone’.
But ultimately, that’s really all this show has: a succession of great soul numbers, held together by the flimsiest of plots. As trumpeter Joey (Ben Fox) points out, “Soul is the rhythm of the people” − and part of the appeal of Doyle’s novel lay in translating that rhythm from oppressed, black America to working-class, white Ireland. But the show barely engages with the political significance of its setting, and the characters are little more than sketches. The result is a highly enjoyable crowd-pleaser − but it could have been so much more.
By Laura Barnett