Monday, 30 November -0001

BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM

Natalie Dew is a real find who sings like an angel in this magical version of the football romance

Written by Richard Barber
Richard-Barber-colour-176It has taken over a decade but here is the stage musical version of 2002’s hit film, once again under the direction of Gurinder Chadha. And, in many ways, its transition works better in the confines of theatre than on film.

The story is simple: the clash between duty and dreams. Young Jess, second daughter of strictly observant Punjabi parents, wants nothing more than to emulate her hero, a certain David Beckham, whose poster adorns her bedroom wall, and play football to her heart’s content. Mum and Dad, of course, won’t countenance anything so Western and unladylike.

But when Jess meets Jules (Lauren Samuels, spot on), she can’t resist the invitation of a trial with the local Hounslow Harriers and her future is sealed. Her ‘unsuitable’ pursuit, however, temporarily scuppers the engagement of her sister Pinky (perky Preeya Kalidas), and causes all manner of tensions, not least Pinky’s reinstated wedding falling on the same day as the Harriers’ cup-final match.

After a noisy and overlong opening 15 minutes, the plot and the characterisations exert their grip, with the clash between the two cultures increasingly well reflected in Howard Goodall’s attractive score, Aletta Collins’s excellent choreography and the brightly coloured set and costume designs of Miriam Buether and Katrina Lindsay respectively.

In the end, though, it’s the role of Jess that’s pivotal to the show’s success and 18-year-old Natalie Dew is a real find. She manages to combine determination with vulnerability and she sings like an angel. This is a truly threedimensional performance worth the price of entry alone.

But then there’s not a weak link. I particularly liked Jess’s dignified father Mr Bhamra (Tony Jayawardena), whose poignant first-act solo, People Like Us, reveals his thwarted dreams of becoming a star cricket player. There’s also a hauntingly beautiful prewedding lament from Rekha Sawhney that may have you hunting for your hankie.

Then there’s Jamie Campbell Bower’s dishy football coach, Joe, turning heads (of both sexes) and Jules’s mother, played to the hilt by a blonde, blowsy Sophie- Louise Dann, a quite different interpretation from Juliet Stevenson’s in the film version.

Unusually for most productions, this gets better and better as the story unfolds, culminating in a joyous finale that both musically and visually combines the highly coloured traditional Indian inhabitants of Southall with the modern mores of a female football team bent on doing it like Mr Beckham.

Booking until October at the Phoenix Theatre, Charing Cross Road, London WC2: 0843-316 1082, www.phoenix-theatre.co.uk


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