Roddy Doyle: Family matters – and an old soul classic

Roddy Doyle is planning a stage musical of The Commitments, he tells James Mottram. But first he's revisiting another hit

If there has always been a streak of optimism in Roddy Doyle's work – from the aspiring Dublin soul band of his debut novel The Commitments to the entrepreneurial mobile chip-shop owners in The Van – he's never been one to wear rose-tinted spectacles. You only need to look at Family, his 1994 four-part television drama – and the reason we are sitting in a London hotel together. When we meet, Doyle has just finished recording an interview for the newly-minted DVD of the series with Michael Winterbottom and the director's long-time producing partner, Andrew Eaton.

Made the year before Winterbottom began his prolific feature-film career with Butterfly Kiss, it may just be the most powerful thing he's ever directed. Set on a rundown Dublin housing estate, each episode focuses on one family member, beginning with the violent, alcoholic patriarch Charlo Spencer (the wonderful Sean McGinley), who dishes out abuse to wife Paula (Ger Ryan) while his four children look on. Dealing with the thorny issue of domestic violence to the backdrop of crushing poverty, the first episode saw half of Ireland's adult population tune in when it was shown on RTÉ.

From the left, Doyle was accused of depicting all working-class Irish families as living under the shadow of abuse, while right-wing church officials claimed he was undermining the traditional Irish family unit. "I remember turning on the news the day after, getting ready to go to work. It was the main headline. There were national politicians talking about it. The lunchtime news was about domestic violence. Family was the story. I was very proud that a piece of writing had an impact like that – though it was very unsettling at the same time."

After the first episode of Family, Women's Aid was inundated with calls from women in similar circumstances to Paula, while Doyle met "hundreds" over subsequent years. It was enough to inspire him to write two novels – The Woman Who Walked into Doors (1996) and Paula Spencer (2006) – continuing Paula's troubled life on the page.

Last year the busy Doyle, 53, published The Dead Republic, furthering the adventures of Henry Smart, his fictional IRA assassin who, by this point, has come into contact with film director John Ford. The third in his trilogy The Last Roundup, he admits it was a mammoth task. "Those books took seemingly forever," he sighs (the first, A Star Called Henry, was published back in 1999).

This year, he followed it with a second collection of short stories, Bullfighting, which dealt with middle-aged men and their concerns over loss – of power, virility, love and, most significantly, the boom days in Ireland.

He is venturing into new territory, of the fictional kind, working on a musical of The Commitments. He stresses it will be an adaptation of his 1987 book rather than Alan Parker's 1991 film version. "I wouldn't be interested in bringing people into the theatre so they can see the stage version of the film. Like Billy Elliot isn't a stage version of the film. I've seen the film, which I really enjoyed, and I went to the musical, and it was an entirely different experience. I was just bowled over by the musical. I just thought, 'That's the way to go'."

Having turned down the chance to pen a movie sequel when he was approached by Hollywood a few years ago, Doyle admits he hasn't revisited the material in 20 years. "When I came across to London to meet [stage] producers, I read the book on the plane on the way over and I was laughing at it – which I normally would never do – because it felt new, because I didn't know what was happening on the next page."

Currently half-way through the adaptation – which he intends to launch in the West End at the end of the year – Doyle admits it's been a revitalising experience. "I'm going to sound like an old man but at my age, it's lovely doing something that you've never done before."

'Family' is out now on DVD

Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits