★★★★★ | Bend It Like Beckham
Does a musical version of the hit film “Bend it Like Beckham” work? You bet it does!
The plot from the film is successfully transformed into a fantastic singing and dancing musical with a clever set, memorable songs, superb costumes and an excellent cast.
Natalie Dew is amazing as Jess, a young woman coming of age in a Sikh household in the Asian community of Southall, London in 2002. She loves the game of football, enough so that she’s got two large posters of David Beckham in her bedroom.
One day Jess is spotted playing football by Jules (Lauren Samuels, playing the Keira Knightley role from the film) who plays for the Hounslow Harriers team. Jess goes along to one of the team’s practices where coach Joe (Jamie Campbell Bowen) takes in interest in her playing, as well as in her, and Jess decides to play for the team, without telling her parents. She knows that her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bhamra (Tony Jayawardena and Natasha Jayetileke), will forbid her from playing the game that she absolutely loves.
Coach Joe feels that Jess is good enough to make the England team, and along with Jules, they urge her to stay in the game, even after her parents do find out. Meanwhile, Jess’s older sister Pinky (Preeya Kalidas) is about to get married to a man whose family thinks that Pinky is not suitable for their son. But all Mr. and Mrs. Bhamra want is the best for their daughters, they worked hard and have provided a good life for them and they want them to continue to live, and follow, their traditional Sikh life. But Jesse has a dream, and she wants to play for England, but will her parents stop her from fulfilling this dream?
To say Bend it Like Beckham is a feel good show is an understatement. From start to finish we are treated to a very vibrant and colourful spectacle, the likes which we haven’t seen in the West End in a long time. And the cast is perfect. Drew brings just the right amount of vulnerability and youthness to the role of Jess – it’s like the part was specifically written for her. Kalidas as Pinky brings the show punch, sass, and vavavoom. Jamel Andreas is very good as Jess’s best friend Tony who is perfect for Jess, perhaps too perfect. Other standouts include Sophie-Louise Dann as Jule’s blond mom, she’s sassy, funny and a blond bombshell. And Rekha Sawhney beautifully sings a traditional wedding song called, Sadaa Chardhdi Kalaa that will mesmerize you.
Gurinder Chadha, who wrote and directed the movie, which is set in the pre 9/11 era, also wrote (with Paul Mayeda Berges) and directed this stage version. She’s captured the spirit of Jess and her love of the game that most British people can relate to, and has given us a show that at no point gets boring or drags – it’s dialogue is very witty yet very dramatic. And the whole cast do wonders with it, and with the set that changes from a shopping street, to Mr. and Mrs. Bhamra’s living room, to an actual football field, all cleverly done. And the show wouldn’t have the name ‘Beckham’ in it if he didn’t make an appearance. The actual David Beckham is NOT in the show, but a lookalike is (along with a Victoria Beckham lookalike).
Let’s hope the real David Beckham goes to see it, he will absolutely love it.
Bend it Like Beckham is playing at The Phoenix Theatre.
Tim Baros writes film and theatre articles/ reviews for Pride Life and The American magazines and websites, as well as for Hereisthecity.com, Blu-RayDefinition.com and TheGayUK.com. He has also written for In Touch and TNT Magazines, SquareMile.com and LatinoLife.co.uk. He is a voting member for the UK Regional Critics Circle and the Gay & Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association (GALECA – of which he is the UK representative). In addition, he has produced and directed two films: The Shirt and Rex Melville Desire: The Musical.