Review: My Beautiful Laundrette (Curve, Leicester)
A new stage production of the 1985 film tours the UK this autumn
If you're old enough – as I am – to recall the career-breaking turn from Daniel Day-Lewis in the 1985 film of My Beautiful Laundrette, then you'll also remember what a landmark film it was for all sorts of other reasons. It was the first cinematic release from the groundbreaking Film on Four to prove a huge commercial hit, it skewered Thatcherism in a way that hadn't really been nailed so effectively before, and it put a gay, cross-cultural love story at the heart of what turned out to be a mainstream film.
Its screenwriter, Hanif Kureishi, has returned to the story more than 30 years on to rework it as a stage play. And if this new version – directed by Curve's artistic director Nikolai Foster and co-produced with Leeds Playhouse, Coventry Belgrade and Cheltenham's Everyman Theatre – doesn't quite have the visceral punch of the source material, it certainly reveals it to be as relevant now as it was when it first hit the screen.
Foster has marshalled an impressive team for this tour, which also takes in Birmingham Rep. Designer Grace Smart has created an aesthetic that feels authentically 1980s, all spray-painted silver surfaces and neon lights coupled with baggy double-breasted suits and outrageous ties. The Pet Shop Boys, aka Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, have provided some new – though disappointingly underused – scene-change music which places us delightfully and unequivocally in the era of electropop and big hair.
But the real strength comes in the performances, which centre around Kureishi's story of a young Pakistani boy being given the keys to a rundown laundrette by his entrepreneurial uncle, and transforming it into a washing wonderland.
Omar Malik's portrayal of the ingenue Omar is touching and heartfelt, torn between his loyalty to family and faith on one hand, and his boyhood friend and would-be lover Johnny on the other. The fact that Johnny is a barely reconstructed fascist skinhead creates one of the many obstacles to their blossoming relationship – although it's far from the only one.
In Johnny, Foster has nurtured a superb redefinition of the Day-Lewis character from the film, thanks to the rather brilliant Jonny Fines. Fines balances the easily-led thuggishness of the young bully with a beautifully delicate emergent soft side, unafraid to scream, brawl or weep whenever the emotion overtakes him. It's a precision-tooled performance that anchors the whole show and is shot through with a twinkle-eyed charm that's irresistible.
Elsewhere, Hareet Deol provides a smarmy and horrible cousin Salim, exploiting all the worst characteristics of the Thatcherite ideology to build his empire, Cathy Tyson is reliably strong as a single-minded mistress, and Gordon Warnecke – who played Omar in the original film – makes his own circle-completing return to the story as Omar's alcoholic father.
It's not exactly light entertainment, but the nostalgic elements are never allowed to override its pertinent messages and powerful narrative, and while a few rough edges might need knocking off over the course of the tour, this laundrette is, happily, as beautiful as it ever was.