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My Beautiful Laundrette – Curve (Leicester) | Review

Jonny Fines as Johnny in My Beautiful Laundrette - Photography by Ellie Kurttz
Jonny Fines as Johnny in My Beautiful Laundrette – Photography by Ellie Kurttz

This theatrical adaptation of a ninety-seven-minute motion picture from the mid-Eighties takes just over two hours to tell essentially the same story (sixty-five minutes in the first half, sixty in the second). No wonder then, when ‘ninety minutes, no interval’ can even be found in the West End these days, that this version of My Beautiful Laundrette is just a little bit slow. Many of the same lines are delivered with (more or less) the same delivery as in the film a generation ago, but not all the narrative elements have aged well.

As it happens, the film does a better job in places at providing details – for instance, when Rachel (Cathy Tyson) reveals injuries to her person that she has sustained, how it supposedly came about is a lot clearer on screen. Here, sympathy is invoked, quite naturally, but the background story behind it is glossed over. The central characters are Omar (Omar Malik) and Johnny (Jonny Fines) – if casting actors who happen to have the same first names as their characters is impressive for some, the real jewel in the casting is that of Gordon Warnecke, who played Omar in the movie and now takes on the role of his father, named only as Papa in the show’s programme. Both Warnecke and Kammy Darweish – the latter playing Nasser, a business tycoon – were the stand-out performances for me.

Seventeen songs appear throughout the show, recorded for the production by the Pet Shop Boys, though most of these are fillers whilst scene changes are going on. I suppose it depends if one enjoys their styles of music or not – for me, there was a distinct Eighties sound, even amongst the eight songs written in 2019 (that is, for this production). As someone who regularly finds it irritating when the music cuts into the dialogue too much, or underscores it, it’s refreshing to sit through a show like this where the lines can breathe unencumbered.

Johnny strides a line between working alongside Omar and maintaining tenuous friendships with the likes of Genghis (Paddy Daly), one of those ‘British jobs for British workers’ types who believes the sole reason why he and others like him are unemployed is because they are being undercut by people from overseas. It is an interesting production, demonstrating simultaneously how far society has come since the 1980s and how much progress still needs to be made.

There have been so many plays exploring the lives of men in gay relationships and the challenges they face, and this one is hardly ground-breaking in that regard, but My Beautiful Laundrette still has much to say, for instance, about making a clean break, which (possible spoiler alert) Johnny appears to have done, and Tania (Nicole Jebeli) wants to do.

The set (Grace Smart) is decent but there doesn’t seem to be anywhere for some of the larger pieces to disappear to when they are technically not required for a particular scene, making it (at face value) look like, for example, there’s a bed in the laundrette. It remains a hard-hitting story – in more ways than one. Sometimes provocative, sometimes witty, this is an honest and sincere portrayal of the possibilities that life affords us.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Set in London during the Thatcher years, My Beautiful Laundrette 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 new production of Kureishi’s ground-breaking film, co-produced with Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Everyman Theatre Cheltenham and Leeds Playhouse, explores cultural conflict, gender equality, class and generational strife, all presented against a funky backdrop of 80s music and culture.

Composers Tennant/Lowe of the Pet Shop Boys, have created original music for this production.

If you enjoyed our productions of Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing and Riaz Khan / Dougal Irvine’s Memoirs Of An Asian Football Casual, this play is for you.

Cast
BALVINDER SOPAL – Bilquis & Moose
CATHY TYSON – Rachel & Cherry
GORDON WARNECKE – Papa & Zaki
HAREET DEOL – Salim
JONNY FINES – Johnny
KAMMY DARWEISH – Nasser
NICOLE JEBELI – Tania
OMAR MALIK – Omar
PADDY DALY – Genghis & Dick O’Donnell

A PLAY BY HANIF KUREISHI BASED ON HIS SCREENPLAY
DIRECTED BY NIKOLAI FOSTER
DESIGNER GRACE SMART
COMPOSERS TENNANT/LOWE
LIGHTING BEN CRACKNELL
SOUND TOM MARSHALL
FIGHT DIRECTOR BETHAN CLARK OF RC-ANNIE LTD
CASTING KAY MAGSON CDG
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ELLIE KURTTZ

MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE
MON 30 SEP — SAT 5 OCT 2019
https://www.curveonline.co.uk/

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