Writer: Hanif Kureishi
Director: Nikolai Foster
Reviewer: James Garrington
My Beautiful Laundrette originally saw the light of day as a low-budget movie shown as part of the Edinburgh Film Festival. Met with great acclaim, it was subsequently released to the cinemas where it became quite a success and was nominated for several awards.
We’re in the 1980s in south London. Thatcher is Prime Minister and the far-right is on the rise. We find Omar, a young British Pakistani man who is at a loose end – so before sending him to college his father gets him some work with Omar’s uncle Nasser, who puts him in charge of a run-down laundrette as a character test. Then one evening, while escorting drug trafficker Salim and his wife home, they bump into a group of skinheads who start to threaten them, until Omar recognises the gang’s leader Johnny as an old school friend with whom, it is implied, he had a relationship.
Omar asks Johnny to help him with the laundrette, and their relationship rekindles. Realising they need money to renovate, they decide to steal some of Salim’s drugs and sell them themselves. Will the theft be traced back to them? Will their relationship be discovered?
As is often the case this stage version is not a direct translation of the original film – Hanif Kureishi, who wrote the screenplay, has tried to adapt it to give it a more modern relevance. Despite this, some of it feels very dated now, and even for those who are unfamiliar with the original movie a lot of the storyline is predictable, with dialogue that sometimes feels stilted and forced and characterisations that in some instances border on stereotypes.
There are some good performances on display from among the cast of nine, though others are less assured. Cathy Tyson does a fine job as Rachel, the woman with whom Nasser is having an affair, and Kammy Darweish is nicely believable as Nasser, whose interests revolve around making money, finding a husband for his daughter, and Rachel – and not necessarily in that order. Hareet Deol is a suitably vindictive Salim, appropriately slimy and threatening so even when he doesn’t resort to violence you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him. Nicole Jebeli has a good stab at feisty, rebellious daughter Tania, though her dialogue too often seems to descend into shouting rather than believable anger or frustration. Likewise an otherwise good performance from Omar Malik (Omar) is marred by patchy delivery, and some of his scenes with Johnny (excellently portrayed by Jonny Fines) seem to be so oddly written and delivered so that instead of touching, they are comic, so much so that on one occasion the audience surely wonder if we’re venturing into the realms of farce.
It’s enjoyable enough entertainment on a cold autumn evening. The difficulty My Beautiful Laundrette faces is that there have been many plays with similar themes of sexuality, culture clash and generational strife among the British Asian community, and it struggles to compete with some of them.
Runs until: 2 November 2019 and on Tour Image: Ellie Kurttz