The Singing Rabbitte: 2
The Singing Rabbitte:
I went to have a look at the Black Market Clash exhibition on Berwick Street a few nights ago, during a break in rehearsals in the Palace Theatre. I didn’t have much time, but I didn’t need much. It’s a quick, witty charge through images and sound – a bit like a Clash song. But it got me thinking about the past and the present and the music we take with us from then to now.
There’s a line in the Commitments script that the young actor playing Jimmy Rabbitte, Denis Grndel, has been saying again and again for the last six weeks of rehearsals: ‘They’re finished, Outspan. Believe me.’ He’s talking about U2, in 1986. But the line isn’t in the novel, which I wrote in 1986.
So, am I cheating? I’m giving Jimmy a look at the future. By dismissing U2, he’s actually letting us know that he knows they’re still with us, that they released Achtung Baby five years after I wrote the book and that they still fill football stadiums. I wrote the line for an audience in 2013 and I hope it gets a laugh.
But – again – am I cheating?
I don’t know and I don’t really care. The question doesn’t seem to make sense at the moment. From where I’m sitting, in the stalls – row M, to be exact – everyone’s cheating. Denis, from Donegal, is pretending to be Jimmy, from Dublin, five years before Denis was born. All the actors deliver lines as if they’re new, as if they don’t know how the story’s going to end. Two strips of neon change a pub into a nightclub. Lights change day to night, big room to small room, man in crowd to man alone. A band’s short career is condensed into two hours and an intermission. And, actually, I’m parked in Row O but ‘Row M’ looked better, so I cheated.
And we cheat – everyone involved in the production – we all cheat so the show will seem as honest as possible. The clothes, the costumes, are the genuine article – 1986. The bus stop has a pre-Dublin Bus logo, because Dublin Bus came into being in 1987, a year too late.
Onstage handshakes aren’t permitted, because young, working class men didn’t like shaking hands back then. And hugging, the tendency of all Western people under the age of thirty to hug one another every time they meet or just pass each other in the corridor, ‘Love you!’ ‘Love you too!’ – it’s barred.
Onstage, Jimmy dismisses Depeche Mode – ‘prickin’ around with synths’. There’s a temptation to change the target – change it to Tubeway Army, say, or A Flock of Seagulls – because Depeche Mode have outlived their silly years and they released a very good record just a few months ago. I could quite easily backdate Jimmy’s good taste, the way I’ve often altered and edited my own.
But I won’t. I don’t need to. Because, essentially, Jimmy got it spot on. And, therefore, so did I. The songs in The Commitments – the soul songs – seemed timeless in 1986, twenty years after most of them been recorded. Now, nearly fifty years after they were recorded, the songs I’m listening to all day, twelve hours a day this week – Think, Heard It Through the Grapevine, Papa Was a Rolling Stone – still sound timeless. Even more timeless, if that doesn’t mess too much with logic. Like the best of the Clash.
Two nights to the first previews. Two sleeps, as my kids used to say. I feel like a kid waiting for Santa.