My Beautiful Laundrette – Curve, Leicester

Reviewer: James Garrington

Writer: Hanif Kureishi

Director: Nicole Behan

Powders is back in business.

Following the Curve’s new take on Evita, here we have here we have Nikolai Foster’s 2019 Curve production of My Beautiful Laundrette given the once-over by director Nicole Behan. Behan has made a number of tweaks – this is by no means a recreation of Foster’s production – and what we have as a result is a piece that feels fresh and tight without losing the underlying themes and messages of the original production.

Grace Smart’s set design has given us a South London that feels like a scene of devastation. There’s crumbling concrete, flowing from the fabric of the derelict buildings into the laundrette and even the washing machines. It’s a place with no hope, a dystopian landscape where white supremacist gangs roam seemingly everywhere, watching what is happening.

Against this background, Asian families are living, and sometimes thriving – and here we have one such example. Omar, a young British Pakistani is sent by his father to work for his Uncle Nasser, a businessman with fingers in many pies and a daughter he is desperate to marry off. Nasser tasks Omar with renovating and running a derelict laundrette – but one night, when he is out with drug dealer Salim, they encounter a group of right-wing thugs whose leader seems to be Omar’s childhood friend Johnny – and there’s an implication that they were more than just friends. Johnny accepts Omar’s offer of work in the laundrette, and their relationship deepens. They need money to develop the place though and decide to steal Salim’s drugs. Meanwhile, Nasser is trying to coerce Omar and daughter Tania to get married, even going so far as to arrange an engagement party. Will they get away with the theft, or will Salim take his revenge? Will Omar and Johnny’s Romeo and Juliet relationship be discovered?

There’s a strong cast, with Lucca Chadwick-Patel and Sam Mitchell working hard to give us a believable couple as Omar and Johnny – and though Mitchell’s Johnny comes across as an unlikely thug, his scenes with Chadwick-Patel are touching and the intimacy is handled sensitively by Behan. Kammy Darweish is a powerful Nasser, reprising his role from 2019, creating a character determined to be successful – which in his view means both personal and family success. Also reprising their roles with strong performances are Hareet Deol as Salim, quick to react violently and someone you wouldn’t want to mess with, and Gordon Warnecke as Omar’s Papa, losing his faculties but still the sound voice of reason in the community.

Sharan Phull gives us a well-judged Tania, desperate to go to college – as far away from her family as possible – while being pressured to get married. She is torn between her desire to escape and the threat of a forced marriage if she won’t marry Omar. Phull pitches her performance nicely with desperation and upset, while retaining the feistiness and anger to verbally attack Nasser’s mistress Rachel (Emma Bown) for breaking up the family and upsetting her mother.

This is not a piece for the younger audience members, with adult themes of racism and sexuality, strong language and language that some people may find upsetting. It’s sometimes comic, sometimes touching, often worrying and always relevant, especially so given the current government rhetoric about immigration. Set against a background of racism, it’s a production about family, about desire and ambition. It is a product of its time – the original film was written in 1985 – and taken as that is well worth a visit.

Runs until 24 February 2024 and on tour

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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