Bend it Like Beckham- Phoenix Theatre
A couple of weeks ago I had a jaunt down to the Phoenix Theatre to catch the latest screen-to-stage adaption to hit the West End (on that, by the way, WHY HAS NO-ONE ADAPTED ‘HOOK’ FOR THE STAGE YET?! COME THE FUCK ON WORLD). Yes, Bend It Like Beckham is the latest movie to received the MT treatment and has landed at the Phoenix Theatre with all it’s bhangra and footballs firmly in place.
I met up with Rebecca, Michaela, Wilma and assorted other #LDNTheatreBlogger types (yes we have a hashtag sorrrrrrry about us) and snaffled a pre-show cocktail and glass of wine, quickly catching up on everyone’s gossip and lives. There was a slight sense of not knowing what to expect- granted, BILB doesn’t seem the the obvious choice for a musical- will football lovers want to come and see a musical? Do theatre lovers want another musical about football, given how well Lloyd Webber’s The Beautiful Game went down in 2000? But on the other hand, here we have a brand spanking new BRITISH musical, housed in a big spangly venue and attracting attention. And I’m all for supporting new writing, but mainly I was super excited to see one of my pals from drama school days strut her stuff as a gobby Asian rude gal. INNIT.
When we went, the show was still in previews, and I understand that changes have been made since (for non-theatrey type folks, when a show is in previews it’s like a trial run before the official opening night, allowing them to see what works in front of an audience and then make changes and cuts and adjust things. Quite often the finished product of a show is wildly different from what you’d see during previews!). My main criticism when we saw it was the LENGTH. It was nearly three hours long. They’ve cut it down to 2 hours 45 mins but I STILL think that’s a bit long. (A bit like HP and the Order of the Phoenix. Come ON Harry, a bit less pubescent angst and a bit more Death Eater bashing if you ask me.)
There’s lots of good stuff in there- great to see a cast led by strong, young female characters, the dynamics of the Sikh family are totally sparky and given with huge pace and a lovely streak of comedy and it’s gorgeously colourful and vibrant to look at. Obviously my girrrrrrl Sejal Keshwala stands out giving it massive attitude in the trio of chavvy cousins, who are all EXCELLENT, though I loved it more when she was dressed as a tiny shuffling Grandma in the market.
Although the cast are blessed with great voices (Haiiiiii Lauren Samuels and Sophie-Louise Dann in particular. You got pipes girls), the music (by Howard Goodall) I found a bit hit and miss, with seemingly endless unnecessary reprises, and a couple of bland ballads thrown in for good measure, but all the bhangra inspired moments were the brilliant- the wedding scene a particular highlight. There was also a truly cringey moment with a projection of a football and a very ropey David Beckham lookalike- I am praying that’s been cut from the final version of the show. But in general, it’s pleasant. Warm and palatable and fizzing with energy- like a glass of prosecco on a lazy summer’s day.
The press night was last night and what’s super interesting is that this morning, the vast majority of the newspaper crits LOVED it. Like, 5 star review loved it. Now, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t think it was terrible by any means, and it’s GREAT for the cast and company to get such glowing reviews (believe me, I’m an actor, I know dem feels) but it’s not a 5 star show. And the vast majority of the blogger world seems to have seen a different show, giving it 2 and 3 stars. I don’t really know what I think about that, but it just seems weird. Maybe it’s just that as we were invited during previews, the show has changed a lot since? So then I would question, if a show’s PR team want to get bloggers in to review and write posts, is it going to be counter-productive to invite them whilst a show is still tinkering with it’s final, finished product? Just seems strange that there’s such a cavernous different of opinion!
But then what do I know? I’m just a humble old blogger….
What do you think? Have you seen Bend It Like Beckham?
I received a complimentary ticket for Bend It Like Beckham from Official Theatre in return for a review. All production photography by Ellie Kerttz.