2015 has been a year of great musical – Gypsy, High Society, Beautiful – the Carole King Story – and now comes another to join its ranks, only this time it is both original and homegrown. It is, of course, Gurinder Chadha’s Bend It Like Beckham (Phoenix Theatre), the stage version of the hit 2002 film also directed by Ms Chadha.
The story remains faithful to the film. Jess, 18, living in West London is torn between pleasing her strict Sikh parents who expect her to go to the footsteps of her hero David Beckham. “Anyone can cook an aloo gobi, but who can bend a ball like Beckham?” she says. When the talented teenager is spotted playing football in Southall, a world of unexpected opportunities opens up before her. But as her sister’s traditional follow her dreams?
The show begins with a rowdy chorus in praise of ethnic Southall with its “litter and glitter and noise” and some rather over-exaggerated comedy when a gossiping trio of stooped, elderly women appear as if straight out of Goodness Gracious Me. But quickly all doubts are dispelled and we are swept up in a perfect fusion of east and west in what turns out to be a moving and uplifting experience.
Composer Howard Goodall and lyricist Charles Hart have written a melodious score with a Punjabi kick that adds much to the emotional core of the show and contains some memorable numbers such as Look At Us Now, There She Goes, Bend It, and best of all, People Like Us, a ballad which superbly conveys the pride and pathos of the Asian immigrant experience.
The choreography by Aletta Collins is full of ingenious, all-singing, all-dancing ensemble pieces; the ball does eventually bend midair; and the bursts into bhangra routines are enacted with terrific aplomb, while Miriam Buether’s set design abounds with colour and diversity, changing in a flash between the jostle of Southall High Street and the football pitch.
But it is the performance of Natalie Dew as the engaging gustily determined Jess that most impresses, lifting the show into a league of its own. She is well supported by Tony Jayawardena and Natasha Jayetileke as her loving but over-protective parents Mr and Mrs Bahamra, Preeya Kalidas as her high maintenance sister Pinky, Lauren Sanuels as her team-mate Jules, who becomes a love rival for their white coach Joe, played by Jamie Campbell Bower, and Sophie-Louise Dann as Jules’s tactless single mum Paula.
I guarantee this funny, tender and tuneful show will send you out into the night with a smile on your face and a glow in your heart. An out and out winner!
Bend It Like Beckham
Box office: 0843 316 1082