“They Could Chain Slaves But They Couldn’t Chain Their Souls”

AM Talks To The Commitments Star, Ian Mcintosh

by Gill Sherry
Photo Credits – Ellie Kurttz

I’d been looking forward to my chat with Ian McIntosh. Not only is he a successful actor
(nominated for an Olivier Award, no less) but he also hails from the same city as me. We spend a
few minutes reminiscing about our early years in Coventry before moving on to more interesting
subjects. Like, how Ian’s acting journey began.

“I used to sing as a child. It was singing that got me into acting. I was in school plays… and then when I was 16, I got an audition at a place in Southend called Masters Performing Arts College.”

He had originally intended to train as an electrician but, after his audition, gained a full scholarship, moving from the Midlands to Essex and admitting ‘my whole life changed at 16’.

“Wendy Headford was my principal and she really took me on and guided me. She knew what I needed.”

He spent a total of four years at the college after which opportunities came knocking.

“I ended up getting pantomimes and did a TV show… GMTV’s Search for the next Troy Bolton for High School Musical. That got me going. I went on tour with High School Musical around the UK and from then on I’ve been really lucky.”

Although he didn’t actually win the TV competition, he joined the production as understudy to the leading role. So does he consider that as his big break?

“I think so, yeah. Before then I was just training. I remember the first time I went on… I never really learned how to act properly. I came through as a singer, then I learned how to dance. The first line I was supposed to say, I didn’t say because I was panicking!”

That first bout of stage fright obviously didn’t do his career any harm. He went on to perform in the European tour of the musical Hair and then joined the cast of Rock of Ages.

“That was my first West End gig. That’s when people in London started to take notice of my ability, I guess.”

Ian was 23 at the time and credits the choreographer, Kelly Devine, for recognising in him something that others had failed to see.

“They weren’t going to take me on,” he admits. “Basically, she saw that I was green and she ended up giving me a chance… so I got that opportunity. In a way, that was my big, big break.”

Ian became the alternate in Rock of Ages meaning he played the lead role for two of the eight weekly shows. It was, in effect, a promotion and led to him securing a role in The Commitments.

“That was nine years ago,” he tells me. “I was an alternate in that show as well.”

Now The Commitments is back and this time Ian is one of the principal actors, playing the part of Deco Cuffe.

“What I’m doing this time is very different. I do six of the shows and get two shows off which means I get those two nights off from work to rest. Even though the structure of the show is the same,” he says, “what I bring to it is different.”

The Commitments is described as a feel good celebration of soul. Does that just about sum it up?

“Pretty much, yeah. It’s also great comedy. The Irish humour is just brilliant, the audience are laughing the whole time. And then, on top of that, you get these incredible songs… ‘Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone’, ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’, ‘I’m a Midnight Mover’.”

Ian sings 17 of the 21 songs. Does he have a favourite?

“I do like ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’, but at the end of the show, we do ‘Try a Little Tenderness’. That’s an amazing moment because it starts so quiet and it builds into this big number where everyone’s jumping out of their seats by the end. We’re on stage and we’re running around and going crazy. It’s just electric, it really is.”

And if that’s not enough to convince you, there’s also a 10-piece band.

“All the actors and musicians are on stage,” Ian enthuses.

“Trumpet, sax player… they all play live on stage. It’s such an amazing experience to have that wall of sound on stage and not in the pit.”

The story is set in the Northside of Dublin where soul was the music of the working class. It tells the story of a young music fanatic who assembles a group of youths to form a soul band called The Commitments. It’s based on the book by Roddy Doyle, first published in 1987 and later, in 1991, released as a film

“One the lines is, they could chain slaves but they couldn’t chain their souls. That’s basically the idea of it,” Ian tells me.

Previously, Ian had believed he would never be able to top his stint as Galileo in We Will Rock You. Now, though, he’s not so sure…

“Honestly, I’ve done a few musicals and… We Will Rock You obviously had a big Queen following and amazing anthems.

I thought I’d never be able to have audiences like that again where they were so appreciative of what we were giving them. But The Commitments is exactly the same. The audiences love it.”

For performers like Ian, it’s that audience appreciation that makes it all worthwhile.

“You have a rapport with the audience. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the attention… you know you’ve done a good job when the audience are giving their all for you. They don’t have to do that.”

Of course, thanks to COVID, there were no audiences for a while. Ian didn’t work for 21 months but prefers to focus on the positive, appreciating the time he was able to spend with his children.

“Another good thing to come out of lockdown… I did We Will Rock You before it and then after it. The gratitude that both the actors and the audience had… it showed me that it’s not just people going to the theatre for a bit of fun, it’s actually a necessity for the soul. We need it. Sometimes that can be overlooked. I personally believe… if you didn’t have theatre, that would be a big, big problem.

“Since coming back in The Commitments… the audiences have just been incredible. I forgot how well the audiences received this show and how much they loved the part at the end when they’re up with their standing ovations and their applause… people joining in singing and dancing. it’s just packed with energy. It’s a really good thing to be a part of.”

Talking of energy, I ask Ian how he feels about being on tour.

“The touring aspect can be difficult but it also can be brilliant. It’s a brilliant company where everyone has a good laugh. We’re a family and a unit. I’ve got two kids and being away from home can be difficult but the reward comes from the audience. I love that I get to do this for a living.”

Although, Ian was born in Coventry (his mum still lives there), he also has family in Scotland so he’s particularly looking forward to performing north of the border.

“I can’t wait to come to Scotland. My name’s Ian Stewart McIntosh so, you know, my family are from Glasgow and Edinburgh… they’ll all get to watch it.”

Not bad for a lad from Coventry!

The Commitments comes to Aberdeen (21st – 26th November), Edinburgh (28th November – 3rd December) and Glasgow (5th – 10th December).

Visit thecommitmentsontour.co.uk for tickets.

Photo Credits – Ellie Kurttz