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My Beautiful Laundrette

Hanif Kureishi, Neil Tennant & Chris Lowe Theatre Nation Partnership & Curve Quays Theatre, The Lowry, Salford March 19-23, 2024; 2 hrs 30 min (also Liverpool Playhouse, March 26-30 & Blackpool Grand, April 2-6)

Sam Mitchell & Lucca Chadwick-Patel in My Beautiful Laundrette. All pics: Ellie Kurttz
Sam Mitchell & Lucca Chadwick-Patel in My Beautiful Laundrette. All pics: Ellie Kurttz

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Big screen to stage adaptations are always a risky business, especially if the movie is a so-called cult classic like My Beautiful Laundrette.

Recreating the plot is one thing, but can you give the characters ample space to develop, does the dialogue feel "authentic" and is it possible to translate the style or feel of the film into a theatre space? 

This touring production is not wholly unsuccessful, but it lacks a certain something to make it a truly memorable experience. 

Struggling to cope in the aftermath of his wife’s suicide, Omar’s alcoholic father, Papa, sends his son to his entrepreneurial brother Nasser to get a job. Omar is asked to turn round the fortunes of a down-at-heel south London laundrette.

When Omar and semi-psychotic friend of the family Salim are confronted by a right-wing gang, it is down to Omar to diffuse the situation when he recognises old school friend Johnny. What follows is a love story fused with an exploration of racism, class and gender equality in Thatcherite Britain.

In a tribute to the source material, Papa is played by Gordon Warnecke, who actually made his film debut as Omar in the original 1985 movie. Warnecke delivers a touching performance as the quiet revolutionary whose ideals have been more or less crushed by the system and circumstance. 

He isn’t alone. Sam Mitchell is brooding, complex and likeable as “angelic thug” Johnny, the role that made a name for Daniel Day-Lewis. His relationship with Lucca Chadwick-Patel’s Omar is truly beautiful. 

Hareet Deol ensures Salim carries a visceral threat across the stage. As Nasser’s overlooked daughter Tania, Sharan Phull injects a relatively small part with a lot of depth.

Despite the good performances, the cast seems to struggle with Kureishi’s words. The dialogue is somewhat stilted and never really sits realistically in the mouths of the actors.

Despite being cleverly clear, Nicole Behan’s direction errs on the theatrical and ends up feeling safe and emotionally distant. 

Several fight sequences are satisfactorily choreographed but lack an authenticity and therefore, pardon the pun, fail to pack a punch.

One of the film’s most famous scenes - a dangerous, romantic and passionate encounter between the two leads - is abandoned in favour of a sequence that swaps the champagne and simmering sexuality for misplaced comedy. 

Tom Marshall’s sound design is neat but disappointingly subtle. Perhaps the production would have benefited from an injection of louder and longer blasts of street noise and train track activity?

The composition from the Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe grounds the action firmly in the 80s, but this too could have been ramped up. Opportunities (“you've got the brawn, I've got the brains, let's make lots of money”) comes and goes way too quickly. 

What is outstanding is Grace Smart’s design. Poster-plastered concrete walls are surrounded by suspended lighting trusses and neons. 

The set perfectly realises the 80s juxtaposition of a fractured society and the promise of wealthy modernity. This is aided by colourful lighting design, by Ben Cracknell. Washing machines never looked so good. 

My Beautiful Laundrette is pleasing but perfunctory. Given the power of the movie and the prescient themes of division, othering and worrying rhetoric, the audience could be forgiven for expecting a bit more. 

More info and tickets here.


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