Bend It Like Beckham at The Phoenix Theatre

109You know what this means…yep, it’s time for another theatre date with Anna! Last Friday evening we headed for the Phoenix Theatre to check out the West End’s latest musical offering! But not before we’d made a detour through the main concourse of Waterloo Station. You see, a week before Ben and I had been here on our way to Date Night, and we happened to pass this mysterious-looking crate…193The ‘InGen’ logo is the big clue here…
Anyway, there had since been a break out, and now the crate looks like this!

106Yep, this is the Raptor Pack, and it was all a big promotion for Jurassic World – meet #JurassicWaterloo! Also, just FYI, Jurassic World is awesome, and I highly recommend you see it. If nothing else for how adorable the Raptors are and how unbelievable (but epic) Bryce Dallas Howard’s sprinting in heels is!

We wandered through central to Soho, where we grabbed a quick and delicious dinner at Tuk Tuk, one of my favourite London noodle bars. Sadly the food was wolfed down so quickly that I had no time to stop and photograph it – we had a show to catch!

As you probably know, Bend It Like Beckham started life as a film, hitting our screens in 2001 and catapulting its stars (Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley and Joanathan Rhys Meyers) to fame (and igniting a nation’s love for Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Or was that just me…?) I have loved the film ever since I first saw it, and it remains one of my favourites to this day. It’s funny, romantic and feel-good, and it actually serves as an encouragement for woman to play football! I swear it’s part of the reason why I took up football at university. See below for the evidence…

KCL WFCThat’s me, second from right on the top row, circa 2009. KCL for life!

Jess Bhamra is an 18 year old girl who idolises David Beckham and loves football more than anything else. She’s just finished her A-Levels and has her final summer of freedom ahead before uni. But her sister Pinky is getting married and her traditional Sikh parents are determined that she will now grow up and become a nice, demure young woman and a top-rate solicitor. But when Jess meets Jules, a footballer for the Hounslow Harriers women’s team, she glimpses a very different future for herself. And with the encouragement of Jules – and handsome coach Joe – Jess dares to dream that she could make it as a professional footballer. That is, until her family find out…

1-005I was intrigued to see how the producers would be able to pull off a very physical performance within the confines of the stage. I mean, there are a lot of footballs and ball skills involved in the story – it’s slightly pivotal! – and without booting a ball into the audience I wondered how they would work around this. It turns out, they managed it very well! Characters went to kick the ball only to be stopped, or the ball was on a wire, or it was a football-shaped ball of light bouncing round the stage. It was all very clever. I never cease to be amazed at the ingenious techniques used in the theatre to combat the constraints of a stage.

The attention to detail was all very clever too. Even the stage curtain had a part to play, covered in a massive paisley design with all sorts of little intricacies detailed onto it – cups of tea, bowls of curry, footballs, and all sorts of items of Anglo-Indian crossover, woven into the paisley so you wouldn’t even notice from a distance. It was beautiful.

I liked all the characters – they made you laugh, they frustrated you, they all had their unique hang ups and quirks. The main three are obviously Jess, Jules and Joe. Their characters are true to form, but I think I’m too used to the film characters, as I preferred them. But I cannot fault any of the cast for their hard work and dedication, and as an audience we all laughed a lot. I really liked the character of Jules’s mum and Tony, Jess’s best friend, and her sister Pinky. Her parents too, struggling to stick to the traditions they grew up with and the modern, western world they have brought up their daughters in. The cast seemed to have quite a few family and friends in the audience judging by the whooping and cheering at the end during the curtain call, which made for a really lovely atmosphere!

As for the songs, unfortunately they didn’t really make much of an impression on me other than UB2, a song sung in Southall Market on a Saturday morning. The rest I’m afraid failed to stick with me afterwards. But I would put that down to it being a new show – it’s only been open for a month. I also really liked the song sang by Jess and her mother and Jules and her mother – that was almost enough to provoke a few tears!

As with all productions that come from somewhere else – book to film, or in this case film to musical – there are always going to be comparisons. I think that, overall, my love for the film placed me at a disadvantage for enjoying the musical. It just couldn’t quite measure up to my favourite. But if you are coming to it fresh, having never seen the film or not having loved the film, I think you’ll really enjoy this. It’s clever, the cast are awesome, and you will leave with that feel-good factor inside. But it somehow just missed the spot a little for me.

111This horse mystified me until I re-watched the film the next morning, and discovered that it is one of the means by which a Sikh groom can make his way to temple on his wedding day. I think the other is elephants, but I think they’re slightly harder to come by in Southall these days!

Bend It Like Beckham is a lot of fun, and it is so important to see a more diversified range of West End performances taking centre stage these days. I think my love for the film just held sway a bit too much, but it is a colourful and bright and funny and uplifting performance, and the perfect summer night’s entertainment.

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