My Beautiful Laundrette at Curve, Leicester – review

The show returns with a UK tour as part of the Theatre Nation Partnerships initiative

My Beautiful Laundrette
My Beautiful Laundrette, © Ellie Kurttz

My Beautiful Laundrette is back for another spin. Adapted for the stage by Hanif Kureishi – whose 1985 movie of the same name catapulted Film on Four to mainstream success – it continues to put a gay, cross-cultural relationship in the neon spotlight.

This time, Nicole Behan is in the director’s chair building on the original production by Nikolai Foster, seen five years ago. The overall feel is more bleak than before. An industrial grey stone alcove coddles the set. It acts as a wall, a barrier, giving way to onlookers and outsiders as they attempt to try and cross it. It’s unfortunately familiar for even today’s audiences, and Kureishi’s watertight script remains razor sharp; peppered with profanity and devilishly scored out characters. Importantly, there are enough laughs – some sly and knowing, others whole-hearted and cheeky.

Fleshing out the material are the three returning cast members. Hareet Deol steps in to flashy cousin Salim with the same swagger as his garish pink suit, whilst Kammy Darweish’s wheeler-dealer uncle Nasser selfishly builds his entrepreneurial empire with Thatcherite glee. They lounge on leather seats and drink champagne from bottles spray-painted with fluorescent pinks and yellows as they count their notes. Meanwhile Gordon Warnecke (who played Omar in the movie) falls naturally into the role of Papa – a man drowning in alcoholism – with the defeated and tired wisdom of an 80s Londoner, who isn’t made to feel like one.

Tying them together is Omar, the British Pakistani teen put in charge of his uncle’s failing laundrette as he reels from his mother’s suicide. Lucca Chadwick-Patel’s portrayal starts with a likeable childlike naivety, before slowly revealing himself to being almost too cool, too in control, manipulative. Under his spell is boyhood friend Johnny (Sam Mitchell), a homeless fascist. He’s a little too nonchalant for an “angelic thug”, with his vulnerability showing as Omar tenderly removes an eyelash from his cheek whilst pulling his strings from the clean sidelines.

The two shine hopefully in Powders laundrette – aptly named after the real reason for the sudden cash flow – as warm, golden light (designed by Ben Cracknell) floods into the blue of the illuminated washing machine windows. Surrounded by posters that advertise safer sex, The Pet Shop Boys (who provide the disappointingly underused score), and Live Aid, Grace Smart’s run-down city-centric design is ultimately excited by the eccentricities of the people who frequent it – their shoulder padded suits, outlandish ties and pink leg warmers.

The latter is worn by a fiercely ambitious young Tania (Sharan Phull), who confesses her frustrations to an immortalised Freddie Mercury on the wall as she wants to breaks free from her traditional family. Tension bubbles and builds across the runtime. On the streets, gangs boil with racist-fuelled rage (Paddy Daly and Emma Bown play two terrors with gusto) as they scale scaffoldings in search of power.

In family homes there is misogyny and adultery, arranged marriage and gender expectations, eviction notices and theft. It culminates in a brutal fight (masterfully directed by Bret Yount) – a huge cathartic release that snaps the relentless piece back in to focus.

It isn’t always beautiful in the laundrette. There are slurs, there is violence, and there is heartache – this is ultimately a love story. It isn’t always an easy watch. But it’s tackled with ferociousness by a fearless cast that continue to tell a powerful story, almost 40 years on.