Bend it Like Beckham review - June 2015

Already dated and a touch patronising.

OH GOD WHERE TO START. No you haven’t fallen asleep and woken up in a weird 2002 dream sequence mash up with jazz hands, Bend It Like Beckham the Musical is a thing now. No, the theatre powers that be won’t stop turning films into musicals and no, nothing is too dated or sacred or implausible to be staged. Let’s all just make our peace with that right now and enjoy the show for what it is; a light hearted and fun display of joy and love with a few awkwardly placed footballs and some dodgy wigged Beckham lookalikes.

Gurinder Chadha, writer and director of both the film and musical, provides a solid enough book for the stage with some great laugh out loud moments, but it is clear to me that this is her first pop at directing a musical. Whilst her book was as witty as expected, scenes were performed in a relatively linear formation without much use of stage depth and many scenes screamed of musical cliché. For instance Act 2’s dream sequence in which Jess dances with David Beckham was like a Comic Relief style parody of Billy Elliot with balls and a footy kit.

By and large the show has a pretty great and energetic cast; Lauren Samuels is a joy as Jules, Natalie Dew is inspirational as Jess, Tony Jayawardena is hilarious as her dad, Mr Bramah. However I deeply question the “gimmick” casting of a “real” footballer in the show who seemed somewhat awkward on stage and may well have been tasked with doubling as a cameo Victoria Beckham in a comedy wig.

My joint biggest grievance with this show is that I found the music and lyrics a touch patronising. The worst culprit was the regularly reprised “Girl Perfect” which sounded like a 90s tampon advert. To be honest I expected more from lyricist Charles Hart, who’s CV also includes Phantom. The only moment of true musical heart for me was Sophie Louise Dann’s rendition of “There She Goes,” which she sung with all the elegance I have come to expect from her as a performer.

My other grievance is that, whilst in general the show is a great spectacle, everything that happens with a football feels awkward, forced and uninventive. I am not sure what was worse, the many panto like ball on string moments, the “bouncing” ball on a blatant stick or the ball shaped lighting projection. Help! If this is big budget theatre and this is the best the creative team can come up with, I certainly do despair.

My final grievance; can we please stop stereotyping the urban populace by phrases such as “innit?!” This makes my skin crawl. Do we need chavs on stage? Probably not. Does anyone born outside the UK or outside the years of 1985-2000 get it, I’m not sure.

The best moments of the show were undoubtedly the moments of traditional Punjabi ceremony. Here I feel the show offered some interesting perspective and presented a beautiful art form that is rarely depicted on the commercial stage. The wedding scene was a particular highlight, with some lovely music, beautiful costumes and fantastic choreography.

Whilst I understand that this show is a period piece, it feels hugely dated. I am not sure that nostalgia and some pretty good bhangra beats are enough to keep a show running in the West End.

I can’t say I didn’t enjoy Bend It Like Beckham; the show is filled with an unwavering amount of infectious joy. However does joy make something a credible work of art? Sadly not. Please, please, PLEASE…it is clearly there is money somewhere in theatre, can we please start investing it in something original rather than rehashing old films and peppering them with jazz hands? Please.

24 June 2015, Phoenix Theatre