Theatre Review: Bend It Like Beckham

Date Posted: 26/06/2015

Alyssa Lim looks at whether Bend it like Beckham has successfully transferred from screen to stage.

Set in suburban west London Bend it Like Beckham tells the story of football fanatic Jess – known as Jasminder to her mum – and the dilemma she has of conforming to the expectations of her tradition-bound Sikh parents or following her dream of playing football.

When Jess is offered the chance to play for the local girls’ football team, the Hounslow Harriers, so begins the dreams-versus-duty dilemma. Her mother is obsessed with turning Jess into the perfect daughter-in-law, capable of making perfectly round patties, yet Jess maintains that: “Anyone can make an aloo gobi, but who can bend a ball like Beckham?”

Jess’s own difficulties are paralleled by those of her new best friend and captain of the football team, Jules, who must listen to her mother’s prejudices of women playing football. Both situations are portrayed brilliantly by the whole cast with touches of humour subverting the tensions and causing the audience to have many laugh out loud moments.

These scenes are combined with more serious moments in which Jess’s frustrations as to whether the reason she can’t have dreams is because she is a girl or because she is Indian are shown. People Like Us, a song by Jess’s dad, Mr Bhamra, addresses this most poignantly. The song is a reflection of the racial discrimination he faced when chasing his own dream of playing cricket in England. Here we learn that his opposition to Jess’s ambitions is borne out of love and a desire to protect her from a similar disappointment of having dreams dashed by racism.

The music in the theatre production is a great addition to the early millennium film. It combines the familiar sound of musical theatre with Bhangra and perhaps the most powerful performance is the traditional pre-wedding lament for the loss of a daughter – Jess’s sister Pinky – which is as impressive as it is haunting. 

There are the added elements of Jess falling in love with her white football coach and the prejudices of Pinky’s fiancé’s family against the lower-middle class Bhamra family which need to be overcome, but everything is suitably resolved by the finale.

The fairy tale-like ending is maybe simple and unrealistic, but, as the Indian families are joined on stage by the football team, merging different cultures and influences in a resolute and harmonious manner, you are more than happy to forgive that.

The music, colour and choreography is a welcome addition to the Bend it Like Beckham story, and the show brings something to the West End that wasn’t there before.

Bend it Like Beckham: The Musical is booking at the Phoenix Theatre, London, until 24th October.

For more information, visit www.benditlikebeckhamthemusical.co.uk.

Photo Credit: Ellie Kurttz

 

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