Friday, 26 June 2015

Review: Bend It Like Beckham at the Phoenix Theatre

Bend It Like Beckham 
Phoenix Theatre
Reviewed on Thursday 25th June 2015

Based on the 2002 movie, Bend It Like Beckham is the latest screen-to-stage musical to open in the West End. Featuring some catchy tunes and strong performances, importantly Gurinder Chadha's production doesn't simply recreate the film; instead the characters and story have been taken one step further to create an original musical which is unlike anything else in the West End.

The story centres around Jess whose two worlds collide. She is the daughter of Punjabi Sikh Indians and faces pressure as her sister's wedding approaches; on top of that Jess has a passion for football and dreams of following in the footsteps of David Beckham. Natalie Dew impresses in the central role, her acting is strong and she brings heart to the piece, performing opposite the versatile Lauren Samuels as Jess' football-crazy friend Jules.

The first act drags, the structure is a little clunky whilst scenes feel static and some musical numbers lack flair. The second half improves drastically, opening with a string of memorable songs; however, the running time still feels far too long. It is unnecessary for so many of the minor characters to be given solo numbers - despite these songs being beautifully written I struggled to get into them as they don't bring anything to the narrative and we don't know enough about these characters to care. Instead it would be nice to hear more musically from the two leading ladies.

Aletta Collins' choreography features several vibrant moments, but overall the concept lacks imagination. The football theme could have paved way for some highly impressive, 'never before seen on stage' choreography; however, despite one or two lighting tricks, elements of football are underused and in several big numbers the choreography looks a little sloppy. 

I'm a great admirer or Howard Goodall's music. He often writes with a certain simplicity which brings such truth. Goodall has written some stunning songs for the show such as 'Glorious', 'There She Goes' and 'More Fool Me' which stopped me in my tracks. Surprisingly, Bend It Like Beckham lacks strong singing - both Preeya Kalidas and Sophie Louise-Dann stand out for their vocal talents, but elsewhere vocals miss punch and there is an awful lot of speak-singing. The score brings something new to the table - the fusion of Punjabi influences and musical theatre certainly works.

Natalie Dew & Jamie Campbell Bower
I enjoyed the refreshing quality that Jamie Campbell Bower brings to his performance as coach Joe. Despite not being your typical leading man, Campbell Bower took to the stage with charisma and certainly won me over. I liked the tone of his voice and he shares strong chemistry with both Dew and Samuels whilst demonstrating good comic timing. 

In the interval I was disheartened, but I enjoyed the second half and felt uplifted by the finale. With a little encouragement from the cast, everyone was up on their feet, loudly applauding as the company took their bows. 

Bend It Like Beckham is certainly not a disaster - it is far from it - and with a few tweaks and cuts it could be a very good musical. I understand a lot of changes were made during previews, but it seems a shame the show didn't play an out-of-town tryout prior to opening in London to give the creatives a chance to make more major changes and see how audiences respond to the piece. 

It was fantastic to see such a diverse audience taking their seats at the Phoenix Theatre. Although Bend It Like Beckham could do more to shatter stereotypes, ultimately Jess' story is inspiring and you can't help but get behind her journey to acceptance. Bend It Like Beckham has been brought to the stage with charm and character and could certainly enjoy a healthy West End run.

Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor) 

Bend It Like Beckham is currently booking at the Phoenix Theatre until 24th October 2015. 
Please visit for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit: Ellie Kurttz

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