Natalie Dew on Learning to Sing and Kick for Her West End Role in Bend It Like Beckham

first_img View Comments Natalie Dew plays Jess Bhamra, the football-loving London Sikh in the West End musical Bend It Like Beckham at the Phoenix Theatre, a career-making performance that has brought the actress a 2015 Evening Standard Theatre Award nod for Newcomer in a Musical—the winner will be announced November 22. As lively and spirited offstage as she is on, Dew chatted to about learning both to sing and to play football for her starring role.How did you land a show that in every way represented such a departure for you?Basically, my agent said, “This is happening and they would be interested in seeing you.” And I said, “I can’t really sing, so this might not be a good venture,” but he sort of convinced me that they were interested in someone who is a straight actor. So I was, like, OK, I will warble my way through a song.It evidently worked since you got the part.Well, [composer] Howard Goodall said to me afterward, “Clearly, you need a lot of work, but you can tell a story through song.” Then they just invested in me, really. I had four or five rounds of auditions and would go away and have more singing lessons and then more and more people would come in to hear me each time; the room just kept getting bigger.How lovely that the creators’ enthusiasm helped spur you on.That was so inspiring—overwhelming, really. It was if they were saying, “Of course we’re going to go with you because you seem to have faith.” That helped me in turn to have the faith. It was like finding a voice at 28 that I didn’t know I had.You’d never sung at all before?Well, I did some amateur stuff when I was very young. I was one of the daughters in Fiddler on the Roof as part of an amateur dramatic group in Devon, where I grew up. I actually left drama school [London’s Guildhall] before we did our musical there, so this was all totally new to me.What did you think of the idea of a stage musical based on the hit 2002 film Bend It Like Beckham?When I first came onboard, I’d only seen the script and heard one song. But as soon as I heard the entire score, I thought, “We’re on to something here.”Why did you think that?The script itself was very close to the film. It was able to keep its authenticity, but at the same time here was a musical that was mixing western and eastern styles of music in a way that I’d never come across before. Once I heard that, I thought this is exciting and different.Was it a big challenge to translate the film’s world of football into something that works onstage?The great thing was that we had time to play with all that during rehearsals. I was worried that there would have been a decision made before we got there about what works and when do we make the transition from literal football to a theatrical version of football.And you had to feel at ease in that world yourself.Which is why we did lots of football playing so that we could feel comfortable around the ball without screaming. Lauren [Samuels, who has inherited Keira Knightley’s screen role as Jules] and I had three months of training. I remember the time our coach told us to play a game, and I looked at Lauren and she looked as if she was going to burst into tears.That must have created a bond.Being forced into a vulnerable situation together, we could only cling to each other for support. Becoming a firm friend with Lauren onstage was as easy as pie because we are firm friends offstage. She’s so brilliant.Were you aware of the film when it first came out?Massively! I was born in Malaysia to a Malaysian mum and an English father, but I was very much brought up in the south of England as an English girl. I remember watching the film and seeing this girl and thinking, “She looks a little bit like me; this is a different story to what I am used to.”Was there pressure to recreate Parminder Nagra’s screen performance as Jess?I think Lauren and I both decided that we had to treat this as a new venture, otherwise I would be really paranoid that I was making a choice because I had seen Parminder do it that way or was making a conscious choice not to do it the same way. There’s a nostalgic attachment to the film that exists so we wanted to see if we could take [the material] somewhere fresh.Has any of the Beckham clan been yet to see the musical?Can you believe that Brooklyn [Beckham, David’s oldest son] has been and it was the one time I was ill so I didn’t get to meet him! But they haven’t come as a family yet; I hope they’re saving it for the Christmas period.Do you feel like a football pro now?I don’t know about that, but this has brought me and my boyfriend closer together! He’s delighted that this play is about football, which meant that suddenly I had to watch matches and start kicking a ball about.last_img

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