I must admit to rolling my eyes a little bit when I first heard about the plans to make a Bend It Like Beckham Musical. I loved the 2002 film, and was intrigued to see what they did with it – but at the same time, it’s just one more in a long line of movies adapted for the stage, and I figured it was either going to be a triumph or a spectacular own goal. Even the news that the show would be written and directed by Gurinder Chadha, who was also director of the movie, didn’t entirely convince me.
Now I’ve seen the show, I can happily hold my hands up and admit I was wrong to have ever doubted. Bend It Like Beckham is colourful, original, entertaining and surprisingly emotional. It’s also really close to the film, to the point that fans may find themselves mouthing along with the script, and the handful of tiny changes to the plot are instantly noticeable to those in the know.
For anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, a quick summary: 18-year-old Jess is a bit of a tomboy, who only wants to play football, like her hero David Beckham. Her dream seems to have come true when she meets Jules, captain of the local ladies’ team, and their coach, Joe. But will her traditional Indian parents approve when they find out what she’s doing?
I never had any doubt that the parts of the show influenced by Bollywood would be brilliant, and fully expected this to be the overwhelming flavour of the evening. But, just as in the film, Chadha has pulled off a delicate balancing act, ensuring that both worlds – that of Jess’s strict, traditional home life, and her newly-found football family – are equally represented, as they each fight to win her over. This balance is reflected in Howard Goodall’s music, which includes Bollywood dance routines, lively group numbers and some beautiful solos, perfectly showcasing the vocal talents of the cast. The haunting wedding song, performed by Rekha Sawhney, is particularly stunning; you could have heard a pin drop in the theatre, and I doubt I was the only one with a lump in my throat.
The predominantly female cast is led by Natalie Dew, who plays Jess and is definitely a star in the making. Not only does she have a gorgeous voice, but her face and eyes are so expressive that you can’t help but get drawn into her emotional struggle; on more than occasion she had me on the verge of tears. Sophie-Louise Dann needs a bigger part as Jules’ mum; she’s hilarious, with some of the best lines in the show (‘there’s a cup for every saucer’ was a particular favourite), and I only wish we could have seen more of her. The same goes for Jamal Andréas, who plays Jess’ friend and biggest supporter, Tony. Other stand-out performances come from Lauren Samuels as Jules, Preeya Kalidas as Jess’ sister Pinky, and Tony Jayawardena as her dad, while Jamie Campbell-Bower makes an accomplished, if at times ever so slightly tentative, stage debut as Joe.
There are so many great performances in this show that I could mention everybody – but I won’t, because it’s actually a pretty big cast. So much so that when they’re all on stage, it can get a bit crowded and chaotic, and it’s hard to know what to focus on. Fortunately, though, everyone’s having far too much fun to care. Not to mention admiring Miriam Buether’s beautiful set, particularly during the wedding scenes, when it’s aglow with light and colour.
Personally, I still have my doubts about adapting movies for the theatre, and would love to see more original ideas coming to the West End stage, instead of endless recycled old ones. But having said that, I’m always happy to make an exception where credit’s due, and Bend It Like Beckham has definitely won me over.
Review by Liz Dyer
Bend It Like Beckham the Musical
Monday – Saturday 7.30pm, Wednesday & Saturday matinees at 2.30pm
Wednesday 24th June 2015