Screenwriter, Hanif Kureishi, returns to his 1985 cult classic film, My Beautiful Laundrette. As the movie that kick-started Film Four is reimagined for the stage, it’s messages still scream loudly for today’s audience.
Set in 80’s London during the height of Thatcherism, we meet Omar (Omar Malik), a slightly slow and monotonous teen living with his once fantastic now alcohol-stinking father following the suicide of his wife. The two struggle through together before Omar goes to work with his entrepreneurial uncle, Nasser (Kammy Darweish), with his cousin, the flashy Salim (Hareet Deol). It quickly becomes clear that their empire is built on drug running, womanising affairs and under the table deals. Darweish’s portrayal is energetic and fun, within the first half he is a beacon of hope for British Pakistani’s working towards a fulfilling career in England. Delivering wise cracks and dominating the stage with a comedic presence, the character of Nasser contrasts the polished and sharp performance from Deol as Salim. Together, the pair highlight the gritty ideologies of Thatcherism in their desperate and relentless bid to get what they want, whatever the cost as well as gender inequality as their wives cook and serve them, bound by dated and warped ideologies.
Coming face to face with his boyhood friend, Johnny (Jonny Fines), a homeless, fascist “white is right” skinhead knocking around street corners with his gang Genghis and Moose, Omar finds himself talking down a racist hate attack on his family. When handed a run down laundrette in the rough side of town by his uncle and ordered to turn it into a thriving enterprise, Omar enlists the help of Jonny. Building ‘Powders’ - a nod to how they made the money to make it a reality, the pair transform a dirty, run down laundrette and in doing so they fall in love. The central relationship between Omar and Johnny is a delight to watch. Fines is devilishly handsome, playing Jonny with a glimmer in his eye and sensitive naivety contrast to his bold and confident exterior. It mixes perfectly with Malik’s sweet Omar, in awe and stronger than he could ever realise. Together, the pair offer believable chemistry and heartwarming moments cleverly placed to root us for their ending.
Within this gay, cross-cultural love story there is focus on the traditional differences between Britain and Pakistan for men and for women. Omar’s cousin, Tania (Nicole Jebeli) is the symbol of the defiant Pakistani woman unwilling to continue to live under expectations set by her ancestors having watched her silenced mother (Sopal) be cheated on with Nasser’s vibrant and eccentric mistress (Cathy Tyson). Representing the free woman, the character's relationships with her break down the dynamics of how a woman's behaviour is judged and viewed, for she is envied, despised and desired. Under pressure to marry and with dreams to be an artist, Tania is threatened to be sent back to Pakistan and Jebeli offers passionate and heartbreaking scenes to break away before being offered help in the most unlikely of places. It would have been easy to take the film script and make the drama a comedy, however this version has reigned in the gags meaning that the carefully placed jokes fall with bittersweet purpose. The play has intense scenes of violence exploring different types of conflict, where the fight leaves the dominant stage space to get so close to the audience that they feel the spit of the words and see the destruction unfold right in front of them. It exposes scars and wounds leaving it with the audience to assume where they came from, as every word in the script has a precise motive within their 120 minute story.
Grace Smart’s set is intelligently designed. Spray painted silver against exposed concrete and brick, she uses washing machines, a bed, and a desk, to place us within location with delicious, retro pieces of detail including a Yellow Pages. The centre pieces are half built scaffolds that I believe the characters climb to place themselves where they believe they are placed in society. The two wives never climb these scaffolding, we see the young and ferociously determined, Tania, try to reach the top, whilst Jonny's gang proudly sit high, Omar joins only when he falls in love. Capturing the essence of the 80s, Smart’s set illuminates with neon signage and gritty/glam rule bending fashions, atop incidental music composed by The Pet Shop Boys.
Directed by Curve's Nikolai Foster and co-produced with Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Everyman Theatre Cheltenham and Leeds Playhouse; My Beautiful Laundrette is an immersive piece of drama. It feels strangely intimate, with the cast of nine and a story that is wildly relevant to today’s Brexit Britain.