Welcoming in the new with the old, the box fresh Playhouse takes us back to the past with My Beautiful Laundrette.
The audience took to their seats amongst bubbling sounds reminiscent of the opening of the 1985 film. This was gradually complemented by the “bovver” boys of the cast stomping around the stage (eventually joined by the remaining cast members) prior to the official start.
If anyone was unsure where the new Playhouse was located for that week, the nice-touch Underground roundel in the corner informs us we’re currently south of the river in an industrialised feeling set with washing machine facades seemingly cemented into the backdrop. Much like the era itself, the dullness is punctuated by another 80s icon: neon – in the form of graffiti daubed over the set. And who better to complete this 80s assault on the senses than the Pet Shop Boys who give us some of their classics including West End Girls and also tracks crafted for the play.
The story follows the main character Omar (Omar Malik) going to work for his uncle Nasser’s (Kammy Darweish) garage upon his father’s (Gordon Warnecke) command. For those of us old enough to remember the film, Omar in the film has grown up to play his own father in the play. Nasser likes the cut of his nephew’s jib and puts him in charge of his dead in the water laundrette.
Omar encounters a no hoper from school, Johnny (Jonny Fines), who has graduated to crime and fascism. He gives Jonny a job and we see their working and romantic relationship flourish (albeit with the minimal amount of chemistry in this particular production).
The same sex romance was ground breaking back in the day but three and a half decades later lacks the impact thanks to more progressive attitudes. But what enables the play to sidestep any feel of being outdated is the modern day regression in regards to the play’s themes of racial division, the perception of marginalisation on home ground and the wrestling with cultural and personal identity.
Stand out performance for me was Salim, Nasser’s lesser favoured apprentice capitalist who brutally intimidates Omar much like Jonny did during their school days. He’s thoroughly unlikeable, but convincingly played with Daniel Day Lewis like commitment by Hareet Deol. The other notable performances were the dual roles played by acting powerhouse Cathy Tyson and Balvinder Sopal each pulling off primary characters unrecognisable to their secondary characters.
I thoroughly enjoyed the reboots of both the play and the Playhouse.
My Beautiful Laundrette runs at Leeds Playhouse until Saturday 26 October. Tickets £14-32 from (0113) 213 7700 or leedsplayhouse.org.uk/events/my-beautiful-laundrette
This post was written by Christine Braithwaite
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