Getting a show from page to stage is an enormous task and when you are converting a highly successful movie into a musical, then you really have your work cut out. So it has been with “Bend It Like Beckham” which is opening at the Phoenix Theatre thirteen years after the film of the same name.
In deepest Southall (UB2) a young girl, Jesminder “Jess” Bhamra (Natalie Dew) has a dream. Not for her, the traditional dream – a city career, marriage, two point four children – no, Jess dreams of playing football like her hero David Beckham. Unfortunately for Jess, her parents (Tony Jayawardena and Natasha Jayetileke) want their daughter to have a life that is more traditional, rather like their other daughter Pinky (Preeya Kalidas) who has just got engaged and, despite being very ‘Western’ in many respects is having a the full on traditional Sikh wedding expected of her by the all powerful ‘family’. The wedding provides a great distraction for Jess who is able to go off with new best friend Jules (Lauren Samuels) and play football for the all-girl team of the ‘Hounslow Harriers’ coached by Jo (Jamie Campbell Bower) who believes that with some work the two ladies may be able to think about a professional career in the USA – where football (or soccer as they insist on calling it) is a really big thing. Over the course of the show Jess has to somehow juggle – as if playing football wasn’t enough – with the competing priorities of her parents, family and community and her desires to be her own person unshackled from her heritage and the expectations of others. Along the way there is romance, confusion, betrayal, surprise revelations and unexpected encounters in unlikely places.
Now I haven’t seen the original movie, which was a worldwide smash and won a whole heap of awards as well as making pots of money, so I can’t say exactly how the two versions stack up against each other. What I can say is that “Bend It Like Beckham” is a spectacular musical, with all of the elements you would expect in a West End production like this. The set by Miriam Buether is really wonderful, and portrays everything from a Southall street, through to a Hamburg changing room to an airport really effectively. The Bhamra’s house with Jess’s bedroom is probably a health and safety nightmare but is amazing to experience – you really don’t just see these sets. Gurinder Chadha who wrote the original film (along with Paul Mayeda Berges) has produced the book, with music and lyrics from Howard Goodall, Kuljit Bhamra and Charles Hart, directs the show and is really well served by a wonderfully enthusiastic cast who commit body and soul to the show – there must be some really exhausted actors and actresses after the curtain comes down. Katrina Lindsay’s costumes – particularly during the weeding – are truly beautiful to behold as they reflect the lighting and impressive shimmering element to Aletta Collins’ choreography. Whilst the story itself is, at its most basic level, a simple story of youth growing and finding its place in the world while the older generation does everything in their power to protect their offspring from the reality of the world they know. However, in with this basic premise are the cultural clashes that can be experienced by second and third generation Indians. Whether “Bend It Like Beckham” gets us anywhere nearer to resolving these clashes, I’m not able to say. The music was used to reflect the differences in culture and, on the whole, worked exceptionally well – particularly in the big opening numbers of Act I which very quickly established where we were and what was happening.
One thing I would really recommend you to do before the start of the show. Go and have a look at the curtain if you can. From a distance, it is a beautiful Indian design full of intricate signs and symbols but up close, it has a secret and is a wonderful metaphor for the entire show mixing old new, east and west in a subtle and magnificent way.
All in all then “Bend It Like Beckham” is a pretty good show. I don’t believe it will set the world on fire, musical-theatre-wise, but based on the reaction when I went to see it, it will entertain, and maybe educate, its audience who will feel they have had a good night out as they wend their merry way home.
Review by Terry Eastham
Jess needs extra time.
She is facing the most important decision of her life; live up to family expectations of university, career and marriage, or follow in the footsteps of her hero David Beckham.
When the talented teenage footballer is spotted playing football in Southall, a world of opportunities opens up before her. But as the day of her sister’s traditional Indian wedding approaches, Jess needs to pick sides.
From the first pass in the park to the final free-kick, Bend It Like Beckham is a joyous musical comedy with vibrant characters featuring a new score with a Punjabi kick. This brand new British musical is a funny, glorious and uplifting adaptation of the much-loved hit film about refusing to watch from the sidelines, bending the rules, and scoring that deciding goal.
Bend It Like Beckham is written by Paul Mayeda Berges and Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham (film), Bride and Prejudice), This brand new show is an East-West fusion of Bhangra and soaring joyous melodies with music by Howard Goodall (Love Story, The Hired Man ) and lyrics by Charles Hart (Phantom of the Opera, Aspects of Love, Love Never Dies), Pioneer of British Bhangra sound, composer and performer Kuljit Bhamra has collaborated with Howard Goodall to create a truly unique cultural blend of musical theatre. Gurinder Chadha will direct, with choreography and musical staging by Aletta Collins (Anna Nicole, ROH).
Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
Evenings: Monday to Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees: Wednesday and Saturday 2.30pm
Wednesday 24th June 2015