Thursday 22 February 2024

My Beautiful Laundrette

 Curve, Leicester

Wednesday 21st February 2024

“Make yourself indispensable”

Over thirty-five years on, Hanif Kureishi’s tale of cultural and religious conflict, gender constraints and sexual liberty resonates with today’s society as much now as it did decades ago – despite the 80s shoulder pads and neon nylon on display. Following Nikolai Foster’s successful 2019 production, Curve have remounted Kureishi’s My Beautiful Laundrette, this time directed by Nicole Behan. While this revival perhaps lacks the vibrancy it had five years ago, the play still shines a spotlight on the wrongs of yesteryear at a time when the country seems to be in a state of sinfully wilful regression.

Omar (Lucca Chadwick-Patel), a down-and-out no-hoper with an alcoholic socialist father of Pakistani heritage, is given a chance to better himself in Thatcher’s world of ruthless Capitalism when his Uncle offers him a job in his decrepit laundrette. Amid a divided society terrorised by National Front skinheads, Omar strikes up an ‘odd-couple’ friendship with his old school bully, Johnny (Sam Mitchell). As their relationship blossoms, together they reinvent the laundrette despite opposition from their family and friends.

Kureishi’s text is often brutal, both physically and verbally, but is also peppered with a distinctly British sense of humour that captures the essence of the working-classes in 1980s London while avoiding the temptation to stray into the maudlin. Kureishi is a deft hand when it comes to innuendo, and the frequent smirks and barely restrained giggles of the cast are infectious. The play gets slightly rushed and muddled towards then end, particularly during the engagement party scene, as Kureishi and Behan try to round the action off neatly, while maintaining the integrity of the characters. And while some characters feel a little broadly drawn – namely Omar’s Uncle Nasser (Kammy Darweish) and Yuppie drug-dealer Salim (Hareet Deol), Laundrette feels unpretentious in its portrayal of modern British multiculturalism.

Thematically, there’s no escaping the comparisons with today’s Brexit and Trump-stoked prejudice. As the far-right encroach ever more into the centre of the national and international political sphere, some of the language evidenced in Laundrette is eerily familiar, as national pride rhetoric becomes an outlet for overt racism. ‘British jobs for British people’ – thus reads a slogan on a placard at a National Front march. The oft quoted argument of Brexiteers similarly fuses seemingly innocuous economic manifestos with an insidious fear of migrants, people of diverse ethnicity and anyone deemed to be ‘other’.

So too resonates the disparate identities of the characters, the sense of wanting to ‘belong’ to a community without feeling wholly connected. Much is made of Omar’s ‘half’ status, he sees himself as British but is demonised by the white supremacist skinheads. Likewise, he feels adrift from the traditions of his Muslim Pakistani family. He’s a person adrift in a society that is unable to accept social evolution. Elsewhere, Johnny struggles to resolve his feelings of loyalty to his friends, and the twisted sense of ‘purpose’ in the casual violence they revel in, with his growing attachment to the Pakistani community – not only to Omar, but Omar’s Papa (Gordon Warnecke – who played Omar in the original film!), who has always offered Johnny sage advice, even in the knowledge that he is hated by him for his racial identity. Rounding off Kureishi’s youth-in-limbo is Omar’s cousin and would-be wife, Tania (Sharan Phull), a free-spirited artist at loggerheads with her conservative, sexist, hypocritical father and her down-trodden mother, whom she loves and admires, but also pities and is repulsed by her culturally-imposed subservience.

Grace Smart’s design is suitably brash in its mix of day-glo plushness and concrete jungle realism – although I felt the neon spray painted champagne flutes a tad over-egged. Incidental music provided by 80s icons the Pet Shop Boys helps set the scene and I enjoyed the brief bursts of classic hits such as ‘West End Girls’ and ‘Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)’. While the play is by no means perfect – I felt that several scenes were rather hectic and confusing, some scene changes slightly clunky, and the ending a little too convenient – the production can be engaging, warm and thought-provoking. Foster and Behan’s production, while rough-and-ready at times, is a fine example of pertinent programming. Unlike the film, My Beautiful Laundrette may not become a classic, but it certainly speaks to the current air of displacement and opposing views on national and cultural identity.

My Beautiful Laundrette plays at Curve, Leicester until 17th February, before touring the UK. For full tour details please visit:


Lucca Chadwick-Patel (Omar) and Sam Mitchell (Johnny) in My Beautiful Laundrette. Credit: Ellie Kurttz

No comments:

Post a Comment