We’ve seen the film, we’ve sung the songs and we’ve read the book, all about the hits and misadventures of a 1980s Dublin soul band. But no-one was expecting a live stage version, least of all one scripted by Roddy Doyle himself.
This is the story of hopeful Dublin musicians who are brought together by Jimmy, a working class music fan, to form the City’s first soul band. It all starts in a launderette under the looming presence of an inner city high rise block.
The band’s road to success or path to failure depends on Jimmy’s great discovery, a lead vocalist named Deco with a voice like an angel and a serious personality disorder. With a superb voice himself, Killian Donnelly demonstrates both Deco’s talent and his lack of people skills and sets the musical bar high for the rest of the cast.
Forming the band is but one of many challenges. As Deco starts to throw his weight around, the other members of the band try to keep the show on the road with plenty of humour and forgiveness. On top of Deco’s exploits, the young musicians must put up with the sexual exploits of ageing session musician Joey (Ben Fox), who turns out to be the lover of choice for the three female backing singers.
The film’s energy lay partly in music and partly in backdrop, a homage to Dublin in the 1980’s where gypsy ponies roam the streets and scenes of general mayhem set the mood for the band’s adventures. Recreating that atmosphere was never going to be easy but set designer Soutra Gilmour manages to capture the carnival-of-life atmosphere.
And the music is good. Alan Williams gives us plenty to sing along to with hits like Mustang Sally, I’ll Be There and Heard it on The Grapevine. There’s also an excellent version of Thin Line whose lyrics have had a Dublin makeover – it’s sung in an empty bar just after one of the band’s regular falling-outs.
Like the city, the band members are eclectic, all auditioned with little ceremony by the ambitious Jimmy who believes that anything is possible. His enthusiasm holds the band together, but eventually the forces within the band tear it apart.
The film ends on a note of downbeat realism, but the stage show has been given a different and happier ending, possibly so that we can indulge in one or two more closing numbers which would be impossible if the band had split up.
A rags to riches tale it is not, instead this is a story about the reality of human interaction, all frayed and messy and unpredictable, with highlights and lowlights and a loveable score thrown in. Critics will be sniffy about its populist appeal, but fans of the film and music lovers in general can hardly fail to have a good night out.
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