Phoenix Theatre | ★★★☆☆
New British musicals have had a tough time of late. Made in Dagenham sank without a trace earlier this year, despite decent reviews and an A-List lead, and Andrew Lloyd Webber and Sir Tim Rice both had new shows suffer similar fates the year before.
Compared to the above, Bend It Like Beckham looks like a safe bet: the blend of cheery comedy and “can do” optimism is ripe for the West End. What’s more, the film was a box office smash, making over ten times its tiny budget and launching the careers of Keira Knightley and director Gurinder Chadha.
Given that Chadha directs the musical as well, it’s hardly surprising there are so few departures from the source material. Jess and Paula are female football fanatics from Southall whose families disapprove of their obsession. Jess (short for Jesminder) comes from a conservative Sikh family, while Paula’s mum is more concerned with her daughter’s sexuality.
Natalie Dew gives a gutsy performance as Jess, and the fusion of Bhangra rhythms with more traditional West End fare works well. It’s a shame that in the second half it contorts into a barely believable love triangle. Still, overall it’s a breezy adaptation perfectly timed to coincide with England’s valiant effort in the women’s World Cup.