My Beautifull Laundrette

Hanif Kureishi’s adaptation of his screenplay for My Beautiful Laundrette was at the Liverpool Playhouse as part of its UK tour, courtesy of the Theatre Nation Partnerships convened by the National Theatre. His script remains strong, but the production is far removed from the 1985 film's powerful exploration of interracial gay romance and racial tension directed by Stephen Frears that received and an Academy Award nomination and two nominations for BAFTA Awards.

Far removed from the 1985 film's powerful exploration of interracial gay romance and racial tension

The Laundrette is owned by Nasser (Kammy Darweish), but it’s currently run down, perhaps partly due to the time he spends having an affair with Rachel (Emma Brown). He sees the Laundrette’s transformation as a major business opportunity for his nephew, Omar (Lucca Chadwick-Patel), a young British Pakistani, who is filled with enthusiasm for the challenge. That doesn’t carry over into Nasser’s other plan, that Omar should marry his daughter, Tania (Sharan Phull).

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The families are living in London during Thatcher's premiership; years that brought success for some and hardship for others. Omar’s father, Papa (Gordon Warnecke, who played Omar in the film), once a significant fighter in Pakistani politics, is dispirited by the times. He has turned to alcohol as an escape and relies on Omar to look after him, his wife being deceased. Salim (Hareet Deol), on the other hand, who works for Nasser, has taken full advantage of the rising drugs scene and is running a lucrative dealership.

It was a period of racial tension and rising opposition to the number of immigrants entering the country and those already established communities. (Nothing changes!) Omar, although born in the country, still falls victim to skin-head gangs out on a spree of “Paki-bashing”. Led by the aggressive Genghis (Paddy Daly), accompanied by Moose (a role in which Emma Brown very successfully doubles) they count the seemingly less committed Johnny (Sam Mitchell) among their ranks. When the gang approaches Omar he recognises Johnny, whom he’d known at school, speaks to him and manages to diffuse the situation. Their friendship is rekindled and Johnny joins in the Laudrette’s renovation. Slowly a romance develops between them, leaving Omar to face his family and Johnny to deal with the gang.

What should be a powerfully engaging social drama is strewn with weaknesses. Grace Smart’s set, in predominantly dreary shades grey if great is difficult to interpret A wall winds its way around the stage but looks as though it has been hewn out of rock. Integrated washing machines are matched by freestanding ones and an ever-moving flexible multi-level gantry provides a vehicle for scene creations. The thrill of the brightly illuminated shop that appears in Act II is diminished because its unlit neon arch can be seen looming above the wall throughout. Meanwhile, the rigs for Ben Cracknell’s lighting hangs visibly from aloft, detracting from the naturalism of the play. Music by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, interwoven into Tom Marshall’s sound design is great to listen to, but does no more than remind that we are in the era of the Pet Shop Boys.

The lack of chemistry between the would-be lovers seriously detracts from the credibility of their relationship, despite the random bouts of kissing, and they mange to reduce the famous two-way mirror sex scene to a comic turn. While Chadwick-Patel fairs well in some scenes with his family, Mitchell never seems out of place in all settings. Meanwhile Darweish and Warnecke rarely infuse the script with any conviction and Deol seems isolated in an intervening storyline of his own. While the casting in those cases is questionable, there are some exceptions. Daly gives an energetic and chilling performance that reveals the extent to which which skinheads were a threat to safety on the streets and how their mindset posed a risk to an integrated society. Phull and Brown brighten up the production with vibrant performances. Phull express the inner conflicts and frustrations of a young woman trying to reconcile the opportunities and freedom of life in British society with the traditional restrictions and expected conformity within her own culture. Brown, meanwhile, has no problems with brazenly being the ‘other woman’.

It’s a production riddled with weaknesses that director Nicole Behan doesn't seem to have a grip on and as such is a major disappointment.

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Performances

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The Blurb

Based on Hanif Kureishi’s iconic and Oscar-nominated screenplay and last brought to the stage in 2019 directed by Nikolai Foster, My Beautiful Laundrette is set in London during the Thatcher years and tells the story of young British Pakistani, Omar, who transforms his Uncle’s run-down laundrette into a thriving business.

After being confronted by a fascist gang, Omar recognises school friend Johnny and uses their history to diffuse the situation.

As they renovate the laundrette together, love blossoms between them.

This culture clash comedy is also a subversive work of social realism, sprinkled with magic and joy running through the rich veins of Kureishi’s writing.

This bold production of Kureishi’s ground-breaking film, directed by Nicole Behan, explores cultural conflict, gender equality, class and generational strife, all presented against a funky backdrop of 80s music and culture with additional original music composed by the Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe.

This production contains strong language and adult themes including violence and racism.

My Beautiful Laundrette was developed with the support of the National Theatre’s Generate programme and is a Theatre Nation Partnership production, produced by Curve.

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