(P)review: Bend it like Beckham, Phoenix Theatre

“Who wants to cook aloo gobi when you can bend a ball like Beckham”

The musical of Gurinder Chadha’s Bend it like Beckham, with music by Howard Goodall and lyrics by Charles Hart, has quite a long preview period – no surprise for a brand new piece of musical theatre – but having been along, I thought I’d jot down some of my thoughts as opposed to writing it up fully – somewhere between a preview and a review to give you a taster of the show. I’d also recommend having a look for tickets now because there are some great bargains to be had in the stalls, seats as cheap as £15 for row E and a barely restricted view.

Balls – for a show about the beautiful game, none of the various ways in which footballs are actually used really quite worked for me. 
Enjoyment – though it may be a bit of a cliché, the cast look like they’re having an absolute ball on stage, and their enthusiasm is infectious, especially in the full company numbers, 
Natalie Dew – from the ballpit at Teh Internet is Serious Business to headlining a West End show in less than a year, it’s a heady rise for Dew but her gorgeous openness makes her a highly engaging lead.
Dann (Sophie-Louise) – Dagenham’s loss is Southall’s gain: Dann is easily at home with the show’s broadest comic character but still brings forth genuine humour and real emotion in her solo song, which probably the show’s prettiest melody. 

Illuminations – there’s much to love in Miriam Buether’s brightly modern set but it is at its best when it lights up the stage
Time – at 2 hours 50 minutes, I’d say the show is probably a bit too long at the moment so it will be interesting to see if it gets trimmed any more before press night.

Lauren Samuels – another actor I enjoy seeing on stage and again is working a lovely line in earnest determination as Jules, Jess’ friend and mentor on the squad
Indian music – the Anglo-Indian blend of the score works well throughout but something special happens when Rekha Sawhney sits down to sing a pre-wedding song, a gorgeous mother’s lament that is a spell-binding moment.
Kalidas (Preeya) – it’s a shame that Jess’ sister Pinky doesn’t have a bigger part in the plot as Kalidas is an electric presence whether acting, singing or dancing, an absolute joy to watch
Ealing – where the show is set and a play to which I have never been.

Billy Elliot – more than once I was reminded of this show. When it recalls ‘Solidarity’, it does so beautifully; but when it reminds you of the Swan Lake montage, it feels like a misjudged moment tbh.
East Africa – I have to confess I was not aware that there was a significant Indian population in East Africa (in the show, Jess’ parents moved to London from Nairobi) and reading about their experiences here was certainly eye-opening and made me want to discover more.
Choreography – Aletta Collins’ remit here is extraordinarily wide-ranging, covering Indian family parties and weddings to football fields and changing rooms, and it is coming along most impressively. 
Katrina Lindsay – the costume work is lusciously realised by Lindsay, I want that exact same outfit for my engagement party dance routine… 😉
Howard Goodall – I’ve long been a big fan of Goodall’s music and I’m loving his work here in collaboration with Kuljit Bhamra, the score is recognisably his, full of swirling pre-echoes, recurring motfis and reprises so that by the time the finale comes round, you can hum at least three different sections of it!
Age gap – a curious element of the plot is the putative love story between college student Jess and her coach Joe, the ethics of which are challenged by not a single person.
Mainstream – I really hope that Bend It Like Beckham can breakthrough like the film version did as there’s much to enjoy here and indeed celebrate with its cross-cultural, independent spirit. 

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