Bexhill actress Sophie-Louise Dann on her role in Bend it Like Beckham the musical
PUBLISHED: 11:10 28 September 2015 | UPDATED: 11:10 28 September 2015
The new stage musical of Gurinder Chadha’s Bend it Like Beckham has been hailed the feel-good hit of the summer. As Paula, Bexhill actress Sophie-Louise Dann steals the show. She tells Jenny Mark-Bell why its message is so pertinent now, and why she and her New Yorker husband will never leave Sussex
On the day of a tube strike, I schlepped to London at the end of a testing 24 hours and walked – well, ran, really – to the West End. I didn’t have time to eat, and as I took my seat in the Phoenix Theatre I thought all that was likely to affect my theatre experience.
As it turned out, not so much. From kick off until the final whistle, the musical version of Gurinder Chadha’s 2002 film, Bend it Like Beckham (Chadha has returned to write and direct this production) is a feel-good hit; funny, poignant and prescient. Bexhill actress Sophie-Louise Dann plays Paula, the brassy but vulnerable mother of football captain Jules Paxton. Sophie-Louise says that the time was ripe for a musical version: “I think the subject matter, particularly within sport, is very present at the moment. We had this wonderful coverage of the women’s football World Cup and FA Cup: people are becoming more and more aware of women’s sport and football, particularly.” Add to that the Olympic legacy and Sport England’s campaign This Girl Can, which celebrates active women, and you have a production with its finger on the zeitgeist.
In the musical, Jess (played by Natalie Dew) is trying to reconcile her love and talent for the beautiful game with her cultural heritage: as her sister’s Indian wedding approaches, she must decide between family and football. Meanwhile, Jess’ friend Jules is fighting off her mother Paula’s awkward assumptions about her sexuality. Alongside the family drama is the background question of what it means to be British in a multicultural society.
Sophie-Louise says the message is still very pertinent now, 13 years after the film: “What is wonderful about the show is the dilemma that is shared on a cultural level by both families. They both have these teenage daughters who have a dream and a passion, and neither of them quite understand it within their world.
“It’s great to see that commitment to children’s dreams.”
For Sophie-Louise, who recently starred in Made in Dagenham as MP Barbara Castle, it’s her second consecutive role in a theatre adaptation of a film, but she says that essentially, each character is created anew for the stage: “Often shows are in development for three or four years and go through several workshop stages. It’s always very exciting to be on the ground floor and create it with a team for the theatre. It’s a very different medium from making a movie.”
And with Paula, she’s enjoyed playing south of Watford. “It’s bizarre that being a Sussex girl born and bred I am predominantly cast as northerners [she also created the stage role of Pools winner Viv Nicholson]. Paula is a little bit Thames Estuary, a little bit Southall, a little bit rough around the edges!”
The performer herself was born in Hastings and grew up in Bexhill, a pupil of its high school, in a house full of music. “I had 10 minutes of my sister’s singing lesson when I was little. The very first song that I learnt for a competition was called The Friendly Cow.” Sophie-Louise believes that classical training with her teacher, Maeliossa Goodale, set her on the right path. She had “a great formative training at the Hastings Stage Studio, which is still running now”, and says that “where I learnt everything, really, was at the Hastings Musical Festival”.
Clearly it’s a winning formula because straight after college she joined the cast of 42nd Street as a dancer. “It was wonderful, one of those big UK tours, and I got my Equity Card which I’m still very proud of.” Twenty five years later she’s still working. Husband Nick Colicos, a New Yorker and fellow actor, has heartily embraced Sussex, where the couple now live – Sophie-Louise commutes to work every day, with the BBC iPlayer on her trusty iPad. “We absolutely love the Sussex life,” she says. “More often than not we’re down on the prom on a Sunday, or we’ll take the motorbike over to High and Over or Bodiam Castle… the sea can change your mood every day; even when it’s rough and angry, it can inspire you. I will never get tired of being here.
“We are gradually drawing people down from the industry who want to move out, want to have children and are afeared of moving out of London. We say we are proof of the pudding that it really works.”
So what ambitions remain from this indefatigable, talented and comic actress? “My favourite role to date? Paula aside, I have to say I think Diana DiVane (above), who was the diva in Lend Me a Tenor [for which Sophie was nominated for an Olivier award]. She was such fun. The number was written for me and it was just five minutes of hilarious, theatrical fun on stage every night.”
Her one-woman show, From Classic to Coward to Current, indulges her love for cabaret and revue as well as her classical training, and when she gets time she’d like to squeeze in a few performances in London and maybe New York.
Closer to home, “I would love to do an evening at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill. I was lucky enough to do Friday Night is Music Night for Radio 2, and when I was younger that was one of their venues of choice to broadcast from. There are fantastic acoustics in the hall and I would love to see that back there. Then perhaps I could be a guest artist back on her home turf!”
For now, though, Paula’s tight dresses and skyscraper heels beckon. One thing is for sure; football or no football, this girl can.
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