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Roddy Doyle On ... Staging The Commitments

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Roddy Doyle has adapted his 1987 novel The Commitments into a musical, which will premiere at the West End's Palace Theatre in October, directed by rising star Jamie Lloyd. Here, Doyle explains more about the background of the project, and why having accessible ticket prices is so important to him.

Staging The Commitments was a long time dawning on me, though there was interest in it immediately after the film came out (in 1991). I was keen to get on with different work at the time and so I ignored The Commitments for years and wrote screenplays and things like that. I didn't look at it again or read the book until my wife told me that my two sons, who are now in their 20s, had watched the film sometime in their teens and enjoyed it but hadn't realised I'd written it.

So I watched it with them and began to feel quite proprietorial about it. And then when my boys started getting older I started going to musicals, once or twice a year coming over here to go to a football match in the afternoon and a show in the evening. I enjoyed a lot of them and I began to open up my mind to The Commitments musical.

When I wrote the book it was half my life ago, I was 27. I have no idea what it was that made we write an individual line. I hadn't read the book in more than two decades but I came over here for a meeting about The Commitments and decided I better read it again. I read it on the plane on the way over and I was laughing in a way that I never do about my own work. But then it didn't feel like my own work because it was so long ago, and the characters just seem so different. I was worried about dialogue, because when a group of young people are speaking it's not like kids in Dublin in 2013 - essentially it could be quite similar but little rhymes and little words were around 27 years ago that aren't today. So I was quite surprised that there was a timeless element to the dialogue. You could almost superimpose the lines to today and they would work.

It would wreck the story though if Jimmy had a mobile phone. You could still form the band but he would be sitting in a corner and could do all his work at the same time. There would be no going from A to B. There would be no 'will they turn up?' element. It would be a bit different today but essentially it's just a group of young people trying to form a band. It's a story that's been going on since the first guitar was plugged in.

On premiering in the West End with an unknown cast

I wouldn't publish a novel and only sell it in a shop in Ipswich. I know the two forms are different, but if we do a good job it doesn't matter where we open. We could open it somewhere and work it slowly towards London, but why would you? Everyone knows the story, so why not open the musical in London? That seemed to make sense to me.

They were over doing the casting in Dublin for a while and I dropped down for an afternoon to see. I enjoyed it very much - it was true to the spirit of the book, about a bunch of kids in Dublin forming a band. One of the reasons the film became popular was that it didn't have well known faces pretending to be kids from Dublin.  This will be the same - it would be a mistake if we had a raft of well-known faces in the cast.

I think people relate to The Commitments because we all want to be in a band. It's the same with all of us who like football; I don't know if you reach an age when you watch a game and there isn't a little lad inside you saying 'I can do better than that'. I think there's an element of that in everybody.

Another thing we're doing is keeping the tickets cheap, especially in previews when they'll be half price. I had a play on in Dublin years ago and the tickets were very cheap and it had a noticeable impact on the type of people who came to see the play. They were out for the night, they brought their own sweets and they had a ball, and didn't care too much about the theatrical conventions that you learn.

You clap in some places and you stop and stay silent - all these conventions you learn when you go to plays and there was a certain wildness in the audience for that play that was great for the show. I would imagine that if we do a good show, the reaction from the audience may be the same for The Commitments.

Roddy Doyle was speaking to Whatsonstage.com at the press launch of The Commitments - this is an edited extract of the interview


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