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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Bend It Like Beckham
Phoenix Theatre  June 2015 - March 2016

Bend It Like Beckham is a charming and thoroughly enjoyable good-night-out musical, which is no more and no less than the built-in audience for it expects and wants. 

It is, after all, not an unknown quantity, being based on the very successful 2002 film, and it is safe to say that just about everyone who comes to the musical will have seen the movie and want more of the same, with songs. 

And that's what they get. Film and musical both tell of the London Indian girl whose love of – and skill at – football puts her in conflict with her family's traditional values. 

Will she choose family or football? Will she get to play in the big game and score the winning goal? Such is the nature of this sort of fable that everyone walked into the film knowing how it was going to end (although perhaps not how it would get there), and there's not much doubt or suspense in the musical. 

What there is, is the undoubted pleasure of watching the inevitable work itself out happily, with the addition of some pleasant if not particularly distinguished songs and some quite inventive and witty dances. 

The musical's authors, Paul Mayeda Berges and Gurinder Chadha, and its director, Chadha, filled the same roles in making the film, so they know the material inside-out, and have no difficulty translating it to the stage. 

Howard Goodall's music and Charles Hart's lyrics are generally unobtrusive and no more than serviceable, though there is an effective quartet for two mothers and two daughters, and a strong dramatic song for the girl's father.

It is Aletta Collins's choreography that provides most of the energy and inventiveness in the show, ranging from a funny Anglicised girls' attempt at traditional Indian dance, through a footstomping locker room number, to a finale excitingly blending a choreographed football match with a full-scale Bollywood wedding dance. 

I should note that the show is very slow building up steam, and interval chatter had disappointed tones. Be patient – it's a show of two halves, and in the best football tradition most of the good stuff comes after the break. 

Natalie Dew is personable and versatile enough to hold the stage and carry the acting, singing and dancing role of the football-besotted girl. Tony Jayawardena is a strong and sympathetic presence as the father not quite a stiff-necked as he acts, and there is nice support by Lauren Samuels, Jamie Campbell Bower, Sophie-Louise Dann and the whole quite large cast. 

This is not one of history's great musicals. But it is honest value-for-money entertainment that delivers what it promises.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Bend It Like Beckham  - Phoenix Theatre 2015    

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