Bubbly Charm: ‘My Beautiful Laundrette’ Review

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Photo by Ellie Kurtz.

★★★

Class, politics, sexuality and family all come swirling together in Hanif Kureishi’s new adaptation of his 1985, Oscar-nominated film My Beautiful Laundrette. It pays homage to the teeming multi-culturalism and LGBT+ scene of the 80s and shows the darker side of communities suffering under politics and resentment of the system. With its bubbly charm and playfulness, My Beautiful Laundrette, directed by Nicole Behan and performed at Liverpool’s Playhouse Theatre, attempts to highlight the glimmers of hope amongst the gloom.

There are two sides to every story, and there lies the allure of this performance. My Beautiful Laundrette gives the same space to the stories of Pakistani immigrants as that to lost National Front members. And as they gradually become more entangled, unexpected tales of friendship flourish. Set to an impeccable, toe-tapping eighties soundtrack, the performance is ready to take you for a spin.

Omar (Lucca Chadwick-Patel) is unemployed and fresh out of his O-Levels, mostly taking care of his alcoholic father (Gordon Warnecke – following on from playing the part of Omar in the original film). He is the wide-eyed picture of innocence as he takes on his uncle’s (Kammy Darweise’s) failing laundrette business and runs it with an old friend/bully/love interest, Johnny (Sam Mitchell).

There are a lot of emotions to encapsulate in the limited time the narratives are introduced, leaving something left to be desired in the chemistry between the two. It’s the age-old case of opposites attracting- someone with mixed British-Pakistani heritage and a National Front member really reach the poles of this trope. But, at times, the rushed re-patching and subsequent unfolding of the relationship leaves the audience a little unconvinced at the idea of the old friends turned young lovers. Credit where it is due to the excellent performance of Mitchell, giving depth and nuance to Johnny with just the right amount of grit to show his softer side when needed.

In a time rife with misogyny and sexism, Sharan Phull plays the character of the young female trapped between Western society and her Pakistani roots. There is a little too much whimsy to feel fully connected to her plight, but the story resonates. Moments of the performance shine in their comedy and in others the audience are holding their breath. The undercurrent of familial love in its convoluted forms is what holds My Beautiful Laundrette together, and upon occasion it pulls no punches.

Lined with washing machines in all their neon glory and some portable scaffolding, the set echoes dingy laundrettes and dingy London streets interchangeably. Neon lighting is very effective at setting the mood, lending to the culminating tension in the second act. Sinisterly, one of the young fascists is almost always present onstage regardless of being in the scene. It is a subtle reminder of the omnipresence of political and societal strife at the time, and the hint that it is never fully out of sight.

My Beautiful Laundrette is glossy and predictable and with this retelling feels a bit like a sit-com: you kind of know what’s coming and hunting for a surprise comes in vain. But as all sit-coms are, it is largely entertaining and laugh-out-loud in places. The performance brings to the fore important stories of family, love, class and race, brought together in a country that doesn’t know how to cycle through them all at once. It is emotional, clever and quick-witted, even if parts need a little more wringing out.

Words by Hannah Goldswain.


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