BLOG: Another look at Bend It Like Beckham
After seeing Bend It Like Beckham at the Phoenix Theatre earlier this year, I had less than favourable things to say about it. But after rave reviews from most of the major press, I was willing to admit I could possibly have missed something when I saw it back in June and so this week I went back for another watch to see if it was any better than I remembered.
It’s not a bad show, however it is incredibly sloppy. Strong Indian accents suddenly disappear when actors burst into song and for some reason, people from Southall all use the word ‘innit’ at the end of every sentence. Door frames come out from below the stage for actors to walk through (into the living room) and then a few minutes later they exit to the side of the stage (what happened to the door?). At times Jess runs up the stairs into her bedroom and at other times exits the side of the stage, only to suddenly appear in her bedroom moments later.
The set looks cheap and minimalistic with football pitch markings on the floor of the stage at all times and only basic pieces of set used for the home scenes. It really looks like a show that was put together on a shoe-string budget. With tickets ranging between £15-£90 each, I would expect to see a bit more in terms of production values.
The script is funny at times but it seems incredibly stereotypical of Londoners accents, Indian families cooking and gay people’s mannerisms (and why do these only appear after one of the cast admits to being gay?).
Am I being an old stick in the mud? Should I be embracing shows like Bend It Like Beckham and not comparing them to other shows that people could pay their hard earned money to see? Yes it’s British and yes its a new musical (although based on a film) but when comparing it to everything else playing in the West End, how does it measure up? The answer for me, not very well.
The music by Howard Goodall is not his best work. The song ‘Girl Perfect’ is catchy enough but lyrically I still don’t understand what message lyricist Charles Hart is trying to send. One of the better songs is ‘Glorious’ which opens both Act 1 and Act 2 but there are some dire numbers like ‘UB2’ with terrible choreography which does nothing for the eyes or ears. After a few listens, the music does grow on you a little and the best parts of the show are the big Indian dance numbers.
With huge discount prices going around online, now is probably the time to see it if you want to. With such a basic set design, I doubt the show needs to make big money to keep ticking it over if it wants to but would I recommend it when there are so many better shows out there? Not really. The press however, thought very differently to me proving one mans trash really is another means treasure!
What the press said about Bend It Like Beckham:
“One of sunniest, funniest musicals I have seen in many a year.” / “Composer Howard Goodall doesn’t really get going until 20 minutes into the first half. The opening numbers sound like generic musical guff and the stage doesn’t really catch fire until a walloping bhangra dance number, the triple threat of Look at Us Now / Golden Moment / Get Me.” – **** The Express
“This new musical adaptation is a bold, beautifully British triumph”
“East meets West whole – melting-pot Britain on one irresistible plate” – ***** The Telegraph
“Okay, it is all more than a touch soupy. The plot may never win trophies for sophistication. The stage may at times become as crowded as the home team’s goalmouth at Hereford United (RIP, alas).” – ***** The Daily Mail
“A pulsating joy that at last provides a homegrown, original musical hit for the West End” – ***** The Stage
“I have some doubts about the fundamentals of ‘Bend It Like Beckham’: the first half needs a trim, and it could do with better songs.” – **** Time Out
“There is no doubt that the musical would have fared better if fresh eyes and hands had taken responsibility for the staging. The first Act is too long and too fiddly.” – **** BritishTheatre.com
“The show has flaws — it starts sluggishly and is too long. Some of the attempts to convey the wonder of kicking a football with Beckham’s particular finesse are clumsy.” – **** The Standard
“Goodall gives them some cracking numbers: “Girl Perfect” is a tad flimsy, but “Glorious” is properly, “Defying Gravity,” “Let It Go” anthemic and celebrates both their feistiness and their femininity.” – Variety
West End Wilma