The Singing Rabbitte 4
The show opens tomorrow night.
The previews have been running for more than two weeks. I went home to Dublin for a weekend but, other than that, I’ve been here, in the Palace Theatre, every night, and twice last Saturday. But, actually, the word ‘twice’ is a bit meaningless, because I haven’t seen the same show twice.
Changes – some drastic, some tiny – have been made every day. A song has, rightly, gone into the bin, and whole chunks of dialogue. Lines have been added; lights have been shifted. One song has a new ending; an onstage salesman has become a milkman. A bus stop logo has been replaced: ‘1986’ has been added to a line.
1986 was when I wrote The Commitments. Onstage, Jimmy announces the band’s first gig, reciting poster-copy: ‘Saturday 24 March, 1986. In Barrytown Community Centre. The Hardest Working Band in the World. The Saviours of Soul. The Commitments. Bringing The People’s Music To The People.’
I first wrote those lines on the 24th of the March, 1986. Now – or tomorrow night – I’ll be sitting with my family and friends, children I didn’t have in 1986, friends I didn’t know in 1986 and friends I’d known for years before that.
How will I feel?
Proud. I think.
I’ve only felt proud of my work once before. I’ve felt happy, relieved, grateful, tired, wired, empty. But the only time I’ve felt pride was after I’d watched the final episode of a four-part television series I’d scripted, called Family. That was in 1994, a Friday morning, and I’d been sent a videotape of the final cut of the last episode. It floored me. I knew what I’d be watching; I’d written the thing, after all. But, still, I found watching Paula Spencer, played by the great Ger Ryan, a shattering and wonderful experience. It was the best piece of writing I’d ever done, and probably ever will do, and Ger and the director, Michael Winterbottom, and everyone else involved in the production had made much more of it.
I feel a bit like that today. I look at the expressions on the faces of the actors playing The Commitments, after they get through their first song, and after their first gig, and after their best, most sophisticated performance. They look stunned, overjoyed, proud. Exactly as they should look. And more or less how I feel.
The script is the foundation and it’s been an incredible experience – a real Once In A Lifetime number – watching other people building the house on top of that foundation. From the first day more than two months ago, sitting in a parish hall in Kensington, to today, Monday afternoon, sitting in the Palace, watching the cast rehearsing their post-gig euphoria. To tonight, the final preview, when they’ll perform to more than 1,400 people. To tomorrow night, when they’ll make the people I love laugh and clap and tap their feet and feel good about being Dubliners in the heart of London.
I’ll feel proud. Relieved, grateful. And thirsty.