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It’s the Quality that Counts

April 13, 2016

I had an email conversation with a reader the other day. The discussion began with a debate on my feelings about “Phantom of the Opera,” but moved on to “Bend It Like Beckham.” Specifically, ‘did all those “five star” reviews happen because the reviewers didn’t wish to offend a minority group?’

My honest answer was “no.” Certainly, the media has to be careful in its choice of words, indeed, posting this blog will probably offend someone for some unknown reason – but nobody would give extra credit for the content of any show being the latest “politically correct” cause. If “Beckham” were to have had that treatment, then by the same reckoning “Bollywood Dreams,” “Bollywood Nights,” and even the National’s play “Beyond The Beautiful Forevers” would have also been lavished with undeserved praise, and those involved in the productions would be first to abhor it.

Still, as I said to the reader, it’s a really good subject for a blog. If we extend the idea that the appeal of the subject should dictate form, that “Kiss Me Kate” should be marked down for domestic violence, or “Annie” for child abuse for a start. “Miss Saigon” could run forever based on its message of hope for orphans, or be closed permanently for its exploitation of women.

“Blood Brothers” is basically about defying social services, “The Phantom of the Opera” about sexual harassment in the workplace, and “Barnum” simply celebrates conmen.

Back to “Beckham,” and I do genuinely believe that some reviewers did find in it something that most of the rest of us missed. I felt that it JUST fell on the 4 stars, rather than 3, thanks to the warmth it generated. Repeated listening of the cast album confirmed that for me, and I still love “Look At Us Now,” a joyous hymn of survival that I too will sing. In fact, you can happily replace the Singh family with any other immigrant group and the show will remain relevant.

Rather like “The Beautiful Game,” I’m inclined to think that quite simply the show will live again… once it has solved the issue the Andrew Lloyd Webber show also had to overcome. It’s really hard to put football on stage – even after overcoming “audience resistance” to the idea of football in the first place (theatregoers not always being lovers of anything to do with the sport).

Football is a field game, with spectators surrounding a vast playing area, watching a lot of players move at high speed – often clumped together to reach the ball.

Theatre these days is often confined to spectators on one side, and the actors spread to fill as much of the stage as possible.

The Union Theatre revival of “The Beautiful Game” solved the problem by having the stage “traverse” so that it felt like a football pitch – playing scenes at the ends of the stage when “home” backgrounds were needed.

“Beckham,” once the Union (or other fringe venue with a flexible stage) will work – I think – perfectly in that same layout. Jess can actually kick a ball and not injure anyone, and the impact of the final match will be greater. Further, using ends to show divides may point up the symbolism of the show.

So maybe the stars were deserved after all. They recognised the strength of the work over the current staging. In other words, it wasn’t just the subject matter – my musings suggest a different staging could get closer to allowing its true quality to shine, as “The Beautiful Game” did. Thus I do think that it really is the quality of the art, whatever the subject, that indeed is the thing that actually counts.

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