My Beautiful Laundrette: Hanif Kureishi Birmingham REP and tour
Review: Dan Auluk
The Birmingham REP Theatre, 3 – 9th November
Runs: 2h 5m, one interval
Tickets: 0121 236 4455
Info and Tickets: https://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/
Review Dan Auluk 5 Nov 2019
The play tackles issues around gender, sexuality and racial politics, in the Thatcher years. The film was a breakthrough moment for British Asian audiences, in terms of representations of interracial relationships (gay and straight) and the pressures of arranged or forced marriage.
Set in the early 1980s the play follows a young British Pakistani man, Omar (Omar Malik) who rebels from his father’s wishes of an arranged marriage and further education. Omar is convinced by his moneymaking likeable/rogue Uncle Naseer (Kammy Darweish) to run a disused launderette in South London. Omar, who rekindles his friendship with his former childhood friend Johnny (Jonny Fines) who is now a blond Adonis National Front conflicted thug with a pessimistic future but with heart and the will to succeed for a better life. They both decide to re-transform the laundrette to a glitzy, shiny palace called Powders, to serve the local community but are hampered by a drug dealing businessman Salim (Hareet Deol) and Johnny’s thug mates.
The chemistry between the two main characters Omar and Johnny is acted well but more moments of intimacy were needed to make it more believable. Occasional kissing and the one naked sexual encounter that is censored behind a screen did not ring true the provocative original material and lacked confidence. Fines’ transformation from thug to lover is impressive from his hard to soft physicality and tone of voice. Malik’s performance from angst teenager to confident business manager is convincing.
Omar’s father, affectionately called Papa (Gordon Warnecke) who played Omar in the original film version was a treat to watch and one of the stand out performances.
The main storyline is often interrupted with other storylines. Darweish’s performance is a delight, both in the humour and angst played, with an equally compelling storyline around arranged marriage and his affair with Rachel (Cathy Tyson). Tyson was impressive with a great presence but underused. I was very impressed by Nicole Jebeli (Naseer’s daughter Tania and Omar’s cousin). Jebeli plays a believable confident teenager whose aspirations are to free herself from her suffocating family. Her performance is strong, believable and heartfelt.
The staging is impressive and the neon Powder sign is imposing and brilliantly nostalgic but it all looks too clean and the set changes are distracting.
Foster’s direction highlights relevance to today but he allows the pace to drop particularly with scene changes which were too busy.
Omar: Omar Malik
Johnny: Jonny Fines
Naseer: Kammy Darweish
Papa & Zaki: Gordon Warnecke
Rachel & Cherry: Cathy Tyson
Tania: Nicole Jebeli
Salim: Hareet Deol
Bilquis & Moose: Balvinder Sopal
Genghis & Dick O’Donnell: Paddy Daly
Playwright: Hanif Kureishi
Director: Nikolai Foster
Set & Costume Designer: Grace Smart
Sound Designer: Tom Marshall