Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 7 March 2011

My Beautiful Launderette

1st March - 10th April 2011

Kureishi’s break-through screenplay on stage.

Michael Hubbard

Beautiful Laundrette

Cinematic milestone. Photo: Derek Drescher

In cinematic form, My Beautiful Launderette made names of star Daniel Day-Lewis, fledgling film producer FilmFour and director Stephen Frears on its release a quarter of a century ago. Hanif Kureishi’s Oscar-nominated screenplay reflected the place and the time, tackling by means of an unlikely love story issues of racial tension, wealth inequality, unemployment and class divides in the realities of Margaret Thatcher’s aspirational Britain. In the last decade the work has been adapted for the stage. For a piece as focused on character studies as this, theatre looks like its natural home.

Tim McArthur’s production keeps Roger Parsley and Andy Graham’s script true to the 1980s, a wise decision helped by of-the-period chart music and designer Fiona Russell’s inventive if raggedly executed use of the Above The Stag theatre’s curious proportions. If some of Kureishi’s subtleties are lost in the pursuit of entertainment and whimsical romance over intellectual stimulation or political diatribe, it seems such sacrifice was intentional.

Part coming-of-age gay romance and part commentary on the effect that money – or lack of it – has on how we treat each other, this adaptation has much to say about lots of things, and in the space of a mere evening skims over many of them. Yet it gives just enough colour to the play’s minor characters to prevent them descending into cliche and sprinkles textual and visual gags to keep the pace ticking along, helped by uniformly impressive performances.

Omar (Yannick Fernandes) is the 17-year-old son of Papa Hussein (Tim Hilborne), a sometime journalist, now alcoholic and infirm, who emigrated from post-partition Pakistan to London. Hussein’s entrepreneurial brother Nasser (Royce Ullah) is prevailed upon to find the drifting Omar a job – and a wife. Taking the young man under his wing, Nasser sets his young charge the task of turning around a failing launderette while urging him towards his outspoken daughter Tania (Nalân Burgess).

But a chance encounter between Omar and school friend Johnny (James Wallwork), who is homeless and out of work, shines light on alternative possibilities. The conflicted Johnny’s feelings about not belonging in his homeland – one that seems not to provide for him as one of its own while the Pakistani community take on all manner of jobs to improve their lot – result in a dalliance with the National Front and a fashion sense that comes with such territory. Omar’s kindness towards him, combined with an unspoken and unanswerable physical attraction between the two, brings Johnny into Omar’s family circle as his partner in laundry and in love. Their illicit affair is nicely juxtaposed with Nasser’s dalliance with mistress Rachel (Samantha Ritchie) and Papa Hussein’s fondness for the bottle to suggest that not even the most sanctimonious are quite as perfect as they’d like to seem.

Johnny as a character remains enigmatic; little of his backstory is explored beyond what we hear of his school days with Omar and his appearance on a racist march. The reasons for his homelessness and lack of work are untouched, leaving the character as a rather one dimensional figure. By contrast Indranyl Singharay, in his stage debut, brings poise and presence to his role as Salim, the drug dealing wide boy villain of the piece whose hatred for England is matched only by his contempt for Omar’s attempts to better himself through legitimate means. And Ullah as Nasser and Hilborne as Hussein play as ying and yang in their opposing attitudes to their adopted country and their lot within it, the former all manic forced laughter and the latter vague yet scholarly. Both have the potential to upstage the two leads with choice lines, but McArthur’s direction ensures the feel of an ensemble piece, even if it all leads to something of a non-conclusion.

In another company’s hands more of the film’s poignancy might have carried over, but this production’s approach to My Beautiful Launderette should ensure seekers of a good night out find the romantic escapism they’re after, despite the piece’s parallels with today’s domestic political realities.

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Michael Hubbard

Once upon a time, Michael founded a music publication whose name nobody could ever quite pronounce. With Natasha's help this grew a theatre section, which laid the foundations for Exeunt. In between stroking his protobeard at gigs, writing about himself in the third person and editing that publication when he should be catching 40 winks, Michael occasionally still finds time to help run a London-based theatre company, indulge in a smattering of copywriting and PR work and, not as often as is healthy, even gets to see actual real theatre productions. He waffles on a bit on Twitter @yeoldemother. Follow him if you’re of the mind. He won’t mind if you are.

My Beautiful Launderette Show Info


Directed by Tim McArthur

Cast includes Nalan Burgess, Yannick Fernandes, Tim Hilborne, Samantha Ritchie, Indranyl Singharay, Royce Ullah, James Wallwork

Link http://www.abovethestag.com/

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