I know what you’re thinking: another musical based on a film? I thought that the moment Bend It Like Beckham was announced as Once’s replacement at the Phoenix Theatre on Charing Cross Road. However, once I heard that it was going to incorporate Bollywood-style music into the score, I started to get a bit more interested. This would make the show truly stand out in the West End – and it had the potential to do something really special with the space provided.
So when I got my ticket for Friday’s performance I was actually quite excited – which made the show’s distinct averageness all the more disappointing.
Admittedly, the experience wasn’t exactly helped by the audience (possibly the most disrespectful crowd I’ve ever had the misfortune to be a part of): when they weren’t rustling sweet wrappers, arriving halfway through the first act, or getting up (from the middle of a row) during the performance, they were talking – one woman loudly shushed other people before continuing her own conversation! That didn’t help. But still, the show is undeniably uninspiring for the most part.
It’s too long, for a start – and there are too many songs! They are currently still in previews (and the song list is only provided as an insert with the programme), so with any luck some will be cut for the main run. I almost let out a few sighs when the music started up each time during the second act; for some reason every scene needed to be punctuated with a song! It’s really not necessary. It holds up the storytelling. For me, songs in a musical should express something dialogue can’t – once it starts repeating things, that’s where you need to stop.
And talking of repetition… The word ‘reprise’ appears seven times on the song list (out of 22 musical numbers), and many of the non-Bollywood style songs definitely had the same tune (I must’ve heard the musical hook to ‘Girl Perfect’ at least half a dozen times). These songs are pretty generic in style, many annoyingly ending with a keyboard note as if to say “it’s finished, you can clap now”, and the lyrics are disappointingly simplistic.
We were given an approximate running time of 2h30, which seemed fair – but it ended up closer to three hours… The first act didn’t finish until almost 9pm!
Shall we talk about the Beckham sections now? Just plain embarrassing. When the ‘lookalike’ walked onto the stage with his back to the audience I thought it could be alright – a tiny cameo & no chance of anyone seeing a face that probably didn’t look like the real thing. But no! We had to endure a truly bizarre sort of ballet section with Jess & Beckham! And as for the airport scene with Posh & Becks… The less said about that the better!
Having said all that… There were some positives. The cast were fantastic (despite some of the material they had to work with), with a standout being Natalie Dew in the lead role of Jess. She has a great voice and put in a very convincing performance – even with that terrible Beckham ballet! Jamie Campbell Bower was surprisingly good; I think because I’ve only seen him in Sweeney Todd and Camelot I just couldn’t picture him as a football coach. Preeya Kalidas was fun, but her phenomenal voice was sometimes wasted in the role of Pinky.
I did enjoy some of the songs. I mean, a musical number while the girls were training is a good idea, as you can incorporate choreography into it without being gratuitous. (Just a shame that they then kept repeating that song throughout the show!) It really did come alive when the Bollywood numbers kicked in. They were most definitely the highlight of the show, in particular during the first act’s engagement party and the second act’s wedding. And the costumes were simply beautiful!
I enjoyed the use of lighting to show Jess bending the ball like Beckham – but only the first time. Again, an unnecessary repeat!
So, on the whole… It really needs work. There is potential there, as the story is a strong one, but I feel it really is unsustainable in its current form.
At the moment it’s booking until 24 October, and apparently already has some avid fans, but in this incarnation I can’t see it extending. I’m not sure it deserves to!
Cut some songs and then maybe I’ll reconsider…