“Just look at them now”
A third trip back to UB2 and Bend it like Beckham remains a real pleasure (original review / preview). It’s interesting how the release of a show’s cast recording can impact my feelings towards it – being a big Howard Goodall fan, I’ve listened to this OCR a lot and fallen more in love with its music than ever. And in this age of playlists, it’s quite easy to come up with edited highlights that skate over some of the weaker moments to give an idealised version of the production.
That said, going back to the Phoenix Theatre was still highly enjoyable and it’s always fascinating to see how different emphases come through after repeated views. For me, it has been the realisation that the heart of the show lies as much with Jess’ parents, the under-rated Natasha Jayetileke and Tony Jayawardena making us care so deeply about their experiences that have allowed second-generation Jess to reach for the freedom she craves.
The intricately layered score reflects this for me as well, with its strongest tune – ‘Golden Moment’ and all its reprises – being theirs and the most powerful set-pieces, both visually and musically, coming from the depictions of their family life, the inter-connected scenes of the engagement party and then the splendid imagery of the wedding. There are undoubtedly parts of the show that don’t work as well but I still feel that the strength of the rest easily outweighs this.
Natalie Dew remains as fresh-facedly, gorgeously enthusiastic as determined lead Jess, ably supported by Lauren Samuels’ Jules and it was interesting to see understudies on for Joe and Tony. I really rather liked Tom Millen as not-coach Joe, his more easy-going manner making him a more likeable character though still saddled with two really quite poor songs in ‘First Touch’ and ‘More Fool Me’. And Rakesh Boury makes Tony unexpectedly adorable, a more bashful take that pays real dividends. The West End is undoubtedly a richer place for having Bend it like Beckham in it.