Review – Bend It Like Beckham, Phoenix Theatre

Thursday 11 June 2015

imagesTwo football-themed shows in two days, this despite Phil’s relationship to football being not unlike Andrew’s to Pinter (he’s dabbled with it now and again but generally eschews it).

Phil can raise a modicum of interest, once every four years, though he’ll be boycotting watching the next two World Cups if the host nations aren’t changed.

And if you’re wondering where the review of the other one – Patrick Marber’s The Red Lion – is, forget it. Phil and Andrew took a dive at the interval. It was so slow and uneventful he can only be bothered to mention that it begins with a rather protracted scene of a man ironing football shirts when he really should have been pressing the tablecloth from The Beaux Stratagem in the Olivier theatre next door. So you’ll have to make do with Andrew’s summary, “I can’t believe this was from the man who wrote Dealer’s Choice. Was it something he had lying around in the back of a drawer?”.

With football dominating the headlines for the last few weeks both shows have rather timely openings.

Anyhoo, if like Phil, you’re not overly familiar with footie here’s a glossary of terms to help you along.

THE PITCH Bend It Like Beckham The Musical (music Howard Goodall) is based on the 2002 film by husband and wife team Paul Mayeda Berges and Gurinder Chada, the latter directing both the film and this stage version.

Jess Bhamra (Natalie Dew) is an 18 year old girl with a passion for David Beckham and football but her Indian parents have forbidden her from participating in the sport. Jules (Lauren Samuels) plays for the local football club and persuades Jess to try out for it. Cue deception, romance and a globe drinks dispenser presumably on loan from Alan Carr’s Chatty Man.

MATCH In the sub pot Jess’ sister Pinky is about to be married. In this role Preeya Kalidas is perky, sassy and rather terrific throughout.

PASS Coach Joe (Jamie Campbell Bower – Anthony in Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd) makes a pass at Jess but it appears Jules might make a pass at her too. Fortunately Campbell Bower looks rather like Jonathan Rhys Meyers did when he played this role in the film (and not how he looked swigging vodka on the street).

KICK OFF A slow start with very few laughs.

STRIKER The striking design by Miriam Buether initially reminded Phil of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown‘s set with its two-tiered semi-circular setting and band visible through an upper-level window, but the seven panels twirling below suggest different locations most effectively.

FOOTBALL SHIRT Beckham famously played in the number 7 shirt. Surely no coincidence there are 7 spinning sections in the set?

A FUNNY OLD GAME Some of the gags are a bit sit-com, some are over-played but there’s still quite a few laughs along the way. Though it was the set (the Bhamra family home’s appearance) that saw Phil chortling out loud for the first time.

KIT Some sparkly Indian costumes from Katrina Lindsay add to the spectacle.

LINESMAN It seems to be standard West End practice these days, but some of the ensemble numbers are so over-amplified the words by Phantom of the Opera lyricist Charles Hart were frequently rendered inaudible. We had great seats and it’s been previewing long enough to be pitch perfect by now. Though there was a clever song which we could hear clearly, “Everyone Bends”, but as we’re too cheap to buy programmes these days we can’t be certain what it was called.

DRIBBLE A trio of elderly Indian relatives was an overly obvious, possibly deliberate nod to Meera Syal’s character in The Kumars at No 42.

HEADERS  Samuels and Dew make delightful leads. Dew all but carries the show with oodles of charm and then some.

HALF TIME We hit the bar.

GAME OF TWO HALVES The Act 1 closing number is a bit messy. The Act 2 opener is much better and you do get more involved in the storyline but..

PADS Too much padding. The music is occasionally catchy but several songs slow down the engaging story.

SECOND DIVISION Why hasn’t the song sung by Mr Bhamra (Tony Jayawardena) been relegated yet?

GOOD WITH HIS FEET There’s some cracking Indian-inspired choreography (Aletta Collins) in a pre-wedding party in Act 1 and the Act 2 wedding itself.

RESERVES No reservations about the marriage ceremony song (co-orchestrator Kuljit Bhamra) performed on cushions in traditional Indian style by Rekha Sawhney. Knockout.

SUSPENSION There’s some clever stunts (effects by Scott Penrose) involving footballs travelling either around the auditorium or across the stage. One trick, we assume, involved wires. We still can’t quite work it out how it was done.

ALL TO PLAY FOR Sophie-Louise Dann was in the short lived Made in Dagenham, she must be hoping for a hit this time. She gives her broadest all as Jule’s mother, but it’s easy to be distracted during her solo in an airport departure hall by a woman in full African costume providing some background colour behind her.

TACKLE One of the ensemble has something going on in ‘her’ shorts. In a quirky reversal of the male-playing-female chorus (with one real woman hidden among them) of La Cage Aux Folles a man plays one of the lady footballer chorus.

LOOK AWAY NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO HEAR THE RESULT The same man also appears later as Victoria Beckham, dwarfing hubby David, in a sight gag that would have been much funnier if it hadn’t been slightly over-egged.

EXTRA TIME Why hasn’t someone exercised greater editorial power and pruned it judiciously? It ran at 2 hours 50 minutes. At the very least 20 minutes of it should be put on the benches.

DEFENCE This was a latish preview so it may get shorter and some of the problems sorted but we’re told it will be ‘frozen’ very soon.

RED CARD Like Made in Dagenham it ends with a number urging the audience to ovate, in this case “Stand Up and Dance” (we think, hard to tell). Shameless.

OWN GOAL Phil didn’t spot a single person ovating.

BOOKING We got an 11-a-side deal on tickets. Big reductions for groups of 11 or more. Smart.

DRAW Hard to tell whether the coach parties will flock or if the show will take an early bath.

WINGERS Shouldn’t there be an ‘H’ in there somewhere?

HOME Now playing at the Phoenix Theatre

AWAY In 2010 an edited version of the original was the first Western-made film to air on North Korean TV.

AT THE END OF THE DAY A few near misses but too close to call.





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