When I went: 25 January 2016
Location: Phoenix Theatre, London
Performers: Sharan Phull (understudying Jess), Lauren Samuels (Jules), Jamie Campbell Bower (Joe), Preeya Kalidas (Pinky)
Creative team: Howard Goodall (music), Charles Hart (lyrics), Gurinder Chadha and Paul Mayeda Burges (book), Gurinder Chadha (director)
Approximate price: £65
Special points: Heartwarming moments
Best bit: Glorious
If I could change one thing: More killer songs
Bend it like Beckham grew out of the 2002 film starring Parminder K Nagra and Keira Knightley. The subject matter is still very relevant – tensions caused by conflicting views of how an Indian family can or should integrate in English society, and by the normal tension that almost inevitably emanates from teenage girls’ relationships with their parents. I think that Gurinder Chadha and Paul Mayeda Burges’ book is actually very strong and takes the best points from the film.
However, the music is not strong enough to elevate this work above a pleasant, enjoyable musical to the top tier of unforgettable shows that you see again and again. There are some touching musical moments but frankly not enough killer songs.
Sharan Phull, understudying the role of Jess, proved (if any proof were needed) that understudies very often deserve to be leads, using the right blend of naïveté and spirit to make her character likeable and relatable. Lauren Samuels as Jules was a great team captain and showed a development in her acting range since Grease, and Preeya Kalidas, who also featured in the film version, was perfect as Pinky. Jamie Campbell Bower’s Joe was fine but he didn’t have a whole lot to do.
The audience was pretty young for a musical theatre show, perhaps because of the slightly lower ticket prices and perhaps because of the young age of the lead characters. I felt like a lot of people I know would have liked to see this show but it didn’t get as much publicity as lots of London shows; it always felt slightly under the radar.