November 25 2015
Young actor has become star of muscial and talks about what impact the play has had on her…
IT’S SOME measure of her talent that she was up against the rather better known Gemma Arterton in this year’s Evening Standard Theatre Awards.
Natalie Dew, who plays the lead character of Jess in the West End smash musical, “Bend it Like Beckham” (‘BILB‘), missed out to the one-time Bond girl Arterton – who scooped the best newcomer in a musical award for her part in “Made in Dagenham”.
Dew speaking to www.asianculturevulture.com before the awards ceremony on Sunday (November 22), said: “I was completely shocked to be (nominated to be) honest and chuffed to bits, I really didn’t expect it.”
You would expect any young pretender in Dew’s position to say precisely that – but in her case, you know she means it.
Just like the inspiring character she plays, there’s something very genuine, fresh and honest about Dew.
Actors often deal in levels of artifice – it’s their job after all, and convincing someone else you are something you are NOT, should come more easily to them than the rest of us.
But in some ways, you feel you’re talking to Jess and not just Dew.
One of the most impressive features of her performance is the way she embodies Jess’ innocence and desire to please – balancing her own personal ambitions with the expectations of her close-knit family – a preoccupation of many Asian girls, whose parents can be quite traditional.
While Parminder Nagra is good in the film version, Dew is even better than her on stage in the musical, in representing an innocence and respect a lot of (Asian) girls possess (and want to retain).
“I’ve been that person, I’ve been that girl,” responded Dew, “when I wanted to apply to drama school and I had to explain to my mum that this what I am going to try for – it sounded very risky and scary. I can identify with that struggle.”
There’s often a tipping point with some girls going one way, and others another.
What makes Gurinder Chadha’s story (as the writer-director behind the film and now the stage version) so resonant and powerful is that Jess has to fight herself a little a first and then her parents.
Dew remarked: “It’s a very lonely journey – before she meets Jules (who introduces her to team football) – and Jess is trying to find herself and Jules tells her it is doable – you just have find your way of doing it. That’s quite easy to identify with being a teenager and understanding how isolated you feel.”
It’s easy sometimes also to forget the racial dynamic of ‘BILB‘, because for the most part it’s about a girl trying to change her family’s cultural perceptions and that is the immersive story, but Dew pointed out something important and striking – more so since the horrible events in Paris (and some time before we spoke).
She grew up in Devon to a Malaysian Indian mother and an English father.
“I feel very British myself and it’s the world I know and what’s been so interesting about playing Jess is that I have played a lot of roles in my life which were ethnically non-specific – playing her and especially doing something like this show which very much stands up in modern society – and says this this what Britain is today and this is the mix of people we have and this is what we are proud of – I have to say it’s been a real eye-opener of a journey for me.”
She said the show helps not only people to better understand a different culture (Asian/Sikh or just a minority ethnic), but actually goes a way towards bringing people closer and assists in chipping away at cultural and racial barriers.
“It’s what makes Britain so great really and we’re so bashed about dividing classes and dividing ethnicities and it’s nice to celebrate something – what if we don’t divide, what if we unify and stand up together and that’s a stronger message.”
Indeed, after Paris and other atrocities that seek to sow further division and strife, a show – anything – that brings us together in understanding and simple pleasures, is worth a lot and every night it is more than apparent.
“I’ve never seen an audience filled with this many different types of people in the West End.
“I’ve seen loads of shows – and it’s obviously of course the subject matter as well – but when I look out across the seas of faces, they are completely different in age, race and background, but they’re all enjoying the same thing, it’s unbelievable.”
She’s a very level-headed young woman is Dew, and for some the adoration, the nightly cheers and the delight in being paired to teen idol Jamie Campell Bower might all be a little heady, to say the least.
Dew can joke about it.
“I haven’t had any death threats yet from Jamie’s fans – everything’s been really lovely – everyone we meet at the stage door has been polite and nice – no drama really.”
Her first real experience of acting came on Monster TV for CBBC, aged about 11, and it gave her a glimpse of the life she wanted.
“It was just really freeing and really very fun. I did a lot of acting when I was younger. I am an only child. At school it was the only thing I was really confident about and I just said to my mum I am going to apply.”
“I didn’t really have a back-up plan and I thought if I don’t get into (drama school) we will just have to figure it out from there – it was the best thing I did.
“My mother didn’t necessarily understand what it is I wanted to do, but she didn’t stop me,” Dew explained.
She trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, and become professional by the time she was 19. Her last role prior to ‘BILB‘ was in Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night“.
‘Bend It’ is her first ever musical and she took music lessons and the much valued support of Howard Goddall, the music composer of the production, to hone what she says is a not very good voice.
“It was hard but I was also surrounded by a number of incredibly talented people who did know this world much better than I did.”
The dancing too proved troubling she revealed, but you wouldn’t really notice – maybe because as an actor she’s actually very assured (despite Jess’ on stage demeanour).
“I have done a lot of Shakespeare – I don’t know how or why? The majority of my career has been doing classical stuff. I love it, once you’ve cracked it, it’s like being let into a code and if it’s done well and you manage to tell the story the satisfaction is like no other,” she declared.
She did say that if she had her time again she would have a second career as a back-up.
“Find another passion as well and have that alongside,” she advised anyone thinking about the acting life.
“I wish I had done something else on the side. I’ve had so many grim awful jobs – front of house, silver service, call centres.
“I would have liked to have done something around cooking, I love food and cooking.”
And so what of her future? When and what will we be seeing her in next?
She plans to take a little break after the play runs its course – the play now runs through until February 2016.
“I’ve been focussed on the theatre and I am still young. I would try anything – but a role in an indie film, I’d give that a go…”
Gurinder, are you reading?
‘Bend It Like Beckham’ booking into February 2016, 7.30pm and 2.30pm (matinees) at Phoenix Theatre, 110 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0JP