The problem with any film to stage adaptation is two-fold: either audiences will view the new incarnation with rose-tinted nostalgia or their memories of the film version will remain so vivid that any stage flaws become more than evident. This Snap Theatre company adaptation of My Beautiful Laundrette falls between both camps.
Andy Grahams' adaptation updates the tale of Omar (Havinder S Bhere), a young Asian, and Johnny (Rowan Talbot), a former National Front member, and sets it in Blairite England instead of Maggie Thatcher's era. The two young lads turn a run-down laundrette into a much-talked-about regenerated success. An unlikely love story develops and the two lads find themselves torn between where their culture states they belong and where their hearts are steering them.
Updating this fascinating landmark tale to the 'here and now' does not really work. Hanif Kureshi's original screenplay dealt with issues that were way ahead of its time. The Asian characters had clear voices and weren't seen as victims. But here they seem to revert to the same old stereotypes. This shortcoming isn't improved by Bhere's dumbed down performance. In the film, Omar evolves from naive to business-like, but in this handling here, Bhere seems to address the script like a children's TV presenter- spelling each line out clearly. As Johnny, Talbot's performance fares better but is too patchy to single out for real praise.
Where this production does impress is in its overall style and innovative techniques. There's a great use of video projection to illustrate Johnny's guilt and generally troubled state of mind, torn as he is between his racist past and his reformed present. Nancy Surman's set design is minimal but extremely effective - spanning from the dilapidated establishment to the new palace which Omar and Johnny take such pride in. The production's Bollywood influences are perhaps slightly misjudged - for instance, the instances when the cast dance across, which might have worked if the actors were enjoying themselves but they look very uncomfortable.
Ultimately, this Snap Theatre offering is a brave attempt at revisiting a ground-breaking tale of racism, politics, violence and peer pressure. But the flaws simply outweigh all the good intentions. Too many key areas are glossed over or ignored and, as such, any sense of depth is missing. The film got under your skin. The play is like a henna tattoo - smudged from your memory in the morning.
- Glenn Meads (reviewed at The Lowry in Salford)