‘Bend It Like Beckham’ started the performances on the Phoenix Theatre on 15th May. For now, it’s only previews and I truly recommend going now, because the tickets are cheaper (I paid £15 for the Day Seat on the front row) and because it’s a good opportunity to see how a show can change with the public. I must recognise that I went to see it with low expectations but I was amazed. I was very impressed, I think that it’s a very positive show, inspiring, funny and entertaining. But it also could be better, I’m sure that some changes will be made, because basically it’s a very long show (it runs almost 3 hours including the break).
The musical is based in a British film released in 2002, written and directed by Gurinder Chadha. It’s quite popular, the actress Keira Knightley is playing Jules and Parminder Nagra plays Jess. But when I found out that they were producing a show based in that movie I wasn’t excited at all. I thought: “again, one more movie adapted to the stage with some songs, how boring!”. But I was wrong.
In the show, Jess is a young girl from an orthodox Sikh family who loves playing football; she admires David Beckham so much. She meets Jules, a British girl who also plays in a women’s football team and Jess joins it. But her family is not happy with that, because they want her to behave according to their culture, looking for a husband and taking care of home. So she can’t wait to follow her dreams but also don’t want to hurt her family feelings.
It’s an old story but also very modern. In London, there are a lot of people, which means different religions, ethnicities and ways of thinking. I’m from another country, so I understand how is living in London feeling different from the rest. You want to keep your culture, because it’s unique too, but also want to try the new things from a new country. ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ it’s a portrait of London and all the foreign people who live here. Probably that’s what I enjoyed the most.
But also, the story is about the generational differences. Jess parents can’t accept why her daughter is so different, why she wants to be a football player. But, as audience, you love her, you understand her point of view and you want her to succeed. The show focuses a lot on her anxiety and her difficulties to overcome and become a great player. Everything is explained with a fantastic sense of humour, some great choreographies and good scenes.
There are like two different scenarios: Jess’ family (full of colour, dance, rhythm and celebrations) and Jules team (more marked choreography, everything is harder, inspirational, reminds you the sport). But all of them combine and fit very well on the same show. One of the best scenes is the wedding, because you can see the Hindus having a party and the football team playing at the same time. All the decoration of the stage is great, because you go from the football field to the family home in a second. Jess’ room, full of posters of David Beckham is really funny.
The songs are OK; some remind you Bollywood and Indian culture, because they include some of their rhythms and use some of their musical instruments. A few months ago, the company released the opening song, ‘UB2’, and I must recognise that I wasn’t very surprised. It sounded fine to me, but nothing especial. Watching it live I enjoyed it more. I think that the way it’s performed makes it more enjoyable, it’s more visual and catchy.
As I said, the show is very long, there are lots of songs, and that’s not really good (and that’s quite disappointing for a musical show). There are lots of reprises and sometimes I had the feeling that some songs were unnecessary. Even so, some of them were very catchy; I left the theatre at night with ‘Glorious’ in my mind. All of them are good, nothing extraordinary different, that’s true, just some pop songs with an ethnic base, but that’s enough. It’s true that the story could be explained with less. I remember, especially at the end, scene after scene I was thinking: ‘really, are they going to sing again?’. It’s like it stopped the action a bit. I’m sure it’s something it’s going to be fixed, without any doubt. So, at least, I’m glad to have heard all the original songs, the way they were created from the beginning.
Anyway, there are a lot of people behind the show who have been working on it for a very long time. So I think they deserve all the respect and admiration. It’s something that I feel when I go to see any show, but especially when I’m watching new shows, because it’s very difficult to make a musical attractive and popular for the audience starting from zero. In the case of ‘Bend It Like Beckham’, the creators wanted to make a positive musical, inspiring and very related to London and diversity.
The cast is extraordinary. I need to start with Natalie Dew, who plays Jess. She is great, fantastic and she has something so especial that I couldn’t stop watching her. The way the scenes are created, you feel all her anxiety, all her doubts and fears and she is great giving all those emotions to the audience. She has a great voice and dances very well. Her character is forced to change during the show. She starts being quite innocent and naïve, and then becomes a woman who fights for her dreams. It’s inspiring.
Also Lauren Samuels, playing Jules, is fantastic. She has a fantastic voice too and all the cast who plays the football team together have so much talent and potential that it’s just overwhelming. But I must recognise that I have a special love for Sophie-Louise Dann. She is extraordinary; I fell in love with her since ‘Made In Dagenham’. She is really funny and her voice is so good that causes goosebumps. I also want to emphasize the job of Preeya Kalidas. She plays Pinky, Jess’ sister. She is so funny and I adored the character because of her.
‘Bend It Like Beckham’ it’s a very surprising, colourful, inspiring and motivating show. Includes many good songs, but too much for now, during the previews. The scenes are very well created, but some are a bit weird and incomplete, obviously because the team still working doing some changes before the official opening night. It’s good to have a show like that in London, gives some fresh air, something different. I don’t think it’s going to be a disruptive production, but it’s a very recommendable show. The best of it’s the message, a portrait of London, a city where live different people, ideas and beliefs in harmony. And they sing songs about it, what else can you ask?