Bend It Like Beckham at the Phoenix TheatreCultureTheatre
When Bend It Like Beckham was released as a film in 2002, it was the surprise hit of the year and became an instant classic. Now it looks like the musical version is set to do the same.
Much like the film, the musical is expertly cast, with Natalie Dew’s kindhearted but conflicted Jess, Lauren Samuels’ headstrong and dedicated Jules and Tony Jayawardena’s jaded and protective Mr Bhamra as standout performances. Despite the now familiar territory of the production, it manages to avoid feeling simplified or flat. In fact, many of the parent/child musical duets – in which a situation is presented from opposing points of view with equal reasoning – helps to add an extra dimension to the tale of conflict and misunderstanding.
In terms of adding dimensions, however, it’s the set that’s most effective. The semicircular stage is fully transformed into the bustling thoroughfare of Southhall Broadway, the leafy training area for the Hounslow Harriers, The Brahma Household, a Hamburg football stadium and many more in a matter of mere seconds, all through Miriam Buerther’s inventive approach to set design.
Howard Goodall must also receive a special mention for his score, which matches the Madness-style jangly piano of the London suburbs with traditional Punjabi elements – courtesy of Kuljit Bahmra – along with his own choral tradition, most evident in the spectacular finales that close both the first and second half. The same praise, however, cannot be extended to Charles Hart’s lyrics. For the most part they are serviceable, even touching on genuine beauty and fragility in the heartfelt There She Goes and People Like Us, but there are too many awkward rhymes and nonsensical phrases to ignore, such as the jarring but simultaneously hilarious “We’re at home and you be too in UB2” found in the opening routine.
The issue of replicating actual football on stage is dealt with equally as weakly, with ball-sized spotlights curving around the theatre, or badly-puppeteered luminous footballs floating against a black backdrop. It seems a pity that in a production with such an incredible set and attention to detail, the actual pretence of football feels a little cheap.
Despite the weak spots, however, Bend It Like Beckham is a fantastically heart-warming production that keeps you on board throughout. By the time the final whistle blows, you’ll be cheering for extra time.
Bend It Like Beckham is on at the Pheonix Theatre until 24th October 2015, for further information or to book visit here.