Based on the 2002 film, director and screenplay writer Gurinder Chada has added bright lights, catchy tunes and fun football choreography to Bend It Like Beckham, turning it into a worthy feel-good musical.
Jess Bhamra (Natalie Dew) lives with her super strict, traditional Indian parents (Tony Jayawardena and Natasha Jayetileke) and her soon to be engaged sister, Pinky (Preeya Kalidas). There is nothing Jess loves more than playing football – and David Beckham, of course. However, Jess’s family do not approve of her passion; instead they try to turn her into the perfect Indian wife, despite her young age of 18. Jules Paxton (Lauren Samuels) sees Jess’s impressive skills and convinces her to join her team, the Hounslow Harriers. Jess must decide between deceiving her parents and following her dreams.
You definitely do not need to be familiar with the film to enjoy this show, and you certainly don’t need to know a single thing about football. This timing is fantastic for a female-empowering musical kicking off at the same time as the Women’s World Cup. Although Jess experiences a conflict between her heritage, culture and football fervour, the show actually celebrates the coming together of two worlds. Through a wonderful spectacle of colourful costumes, heritage song style singers and a variety of dance styles, her two worlds become linked.
While I wouldn’t compare the musical to the film too much, the essence that makes the film so lovable is still there in the musical. The humour and the tone of the show are strong and everything from the singing to the dancing is extremely energetic. As expected, there are still some recognisable lines that made it from screen to stage too.
The cast is especially strong and are evidently enjoying every moment that they’re on stage together. From Jess’s rigid parents to Paula (Sophie-Louise Dann), Jules’s mother, the whole cast is an absolute delight to watch. However, a Beckham not-so-look-alike is a tad awkward and it might have been better to just have seen the back of his head, and leave the rest to audience imagination.
The first 15 minutes of the show are disappointingly underwhelming. It takes quite a while to take off and the first act seems to drag. Yet the first half ends with a fantastic and energising song and this is really the point where the show properly becomes engaging – not to say that it hadn’t been entertaining at all before this point. Luckily, the second act continues on the same vibe and by the end you’ll be resisting the urge to get up and dance. Jess teaches the audience that nothing should ever hold them back from fulfilling their dreams.
Overall, Bend It Like Beckham delivers everything you want from a musical and, with a few alterations and maybe cutting down some of the first act, it has the potential to be a five star show.
Bend It Like Beckham is playing at the Phoenix Theatre and is currently booking until October 2015. For more information and tickets, see the Bend It Like Beckham the Musical website.