The Singing Rabbitte 3
The Singing Rabbitte:
I didn’t smile during the first half. I’m referring to the Chelsea-Fulham match, not The Commitments. But it’s true of both events.
I went to the Chelsea game last Saturday, to take my mind off the first preview of The Commitments. It didn’t really work. The football was bad and the man beside me who kept shouting, ‘You’re not farking Arsenal!’, stopped being amusing after the seventh or eighth roar.
I left at half-time. It wasn’t a protest. It had been a late kick-off – 5.30pm – and I had to get to the Palace Theatre by 7.30pm, for the preview. Chelsea scored twice while I was on the Tube, so my departure was a stroke of tactical genius that Jose Mourinho failed to acknowledge after the game.
But, anyway, I went from one event that irritated me – I usually love being at Stamford Bridge – to one that terrified me. This thing has been planned for more than six years, and I started writing the script more than two and a half years ago. Now, the start, the moment when people – the public – would see it, was less than an hour away.
My first play, Brownbread, was produced in Dublin in 1987, and I never saw it with an audience. I couldn’t. I watched from a corner in the wings. Another play, Guess Who’s Coming for the Dinner, in 2003 – I went for a walk and a pint on opening night. There were no previews.
More recently, I’ve calmed down. Previews are work. I’m there to judge, to see if lines that seem funny actually are funny, if the plot is clear, if there are gaps that need filling or clutter that needs gaps. I take notes in the dark.
On Saturday I didn’t take notes. There’d be more than two weeks of previews. The notes could wait until the second night. So I just sat there. I didn’t laugh. I didn’t clap. I don’t think I really felt present until near the end of the first act, just before The Commitments’ first gig, when Natalie, played by Stephanie McKeon, walked onstage and the woman sitting beside me whispered to her husband or partner, ‘Oh, she’s taken her glasses off.’ I began to realise, to accept, that she and others around me – more than 1,400 of them – were following the story, following the characters. They were enjoying themselves.
I sat back a bit during the second act and began to relax. And I started to let myself think that something a bit special might be happening. As the audience followed the career of the band, and as the band improved and one song rolled into the next song, the response got stronger and louder. They loved the band, the mix of sweetness and obnoxiousness, the fights and affection. There were parents in the audience, I think, and they loved watching these kids taking on the world and, again and again in the songs, winning.
I realised for the first time: The Commitments are a family. They’re the Sopranos, the Royles and the Waltons.
‘Good night, John Boy.’
On the second night, I took pages of notes. In the dark. Some of them still made sense when the lights went back on.
I’m in again tonight, and tomorrow night. Two weeks to Press Night. Oct 8th.