You never forget your first show in a venue. I’ll never forget my first at, what was, The West Yorkshire Playhouse; 2007, The Tempest, one of Shakespeare’s finest works was immaculately presented by Northern Broadside. From then on, I’ve been hooked on theatre; whilst my attendance has been sporadic, in the last 12 months, that love for live acting has been rekindled and when I first heard the, now, Leeds Playhouse was ready for its grand opening, I frantically looked through the listings to see what my first show back was going to be, 12 years on from my last, and only visit.
My Beautiful Laundrette, playing until 26th October, was the obvious choice. For those that don’t know the plot, My Beautiful Laundrette tells the story of young British Pakistani, Omar (Omar Malik), who transforms his Uncle’s run-down launderette into a thriving business. After being confronted by a fascist gang, Omar recognises school-friend Johnny (Jonny Fines) and uses their history to diffuse the situation. As they renovate the laundrette together, love blossoms between them.
The 1985 film became a bit of an icon of cinema, and during the 2 hour 20 minute play, every bit of the narrative felt as relevant over 30 years later, than it did back then. This year, I’ve seen several plays made from films and what I’ve learnt is, it’s far from an easy task. The four theatre companies co-producing this show will have encountered difficulties along the way, but Leeds Playhouse, Belgrade Theatre, Curve and Everyman Theatre, have created something stunning in My Beautiful Laundrette.
What Hanif Kureishi has done with the script compared to the 1985 version, is quite brilliant. In 2019, we are facing issues of gender inequality, racial inequality and both of these are being politicised more fiercely than ever – Kureishi brings this out stronger in the narrative than the movie which means every word is hung onto by the audience as if the story was written today.
Having Gordon Warnecke (Papa & Zaki) on board must have been a big help. He played the original Omar in the 1985 movie and will have been influential in the guidance of Omar Malik’s performance which was superb. Through some great individual moments from Tania (Nicole Jebeli), Omar’s cousin whom his uncle Nassar (Kammy Darweish) is trying to force Omar to engage, it is Malik and Fines who undoubtedly steal the show with the love and eroticism clear to see.
Only the day before, black players from the England Football Team had been subject to racial abuse from Bulgarian fans – it was therefore wholly emotional to see the way in which race manifested itself in British culture in 1985 (and to some extent still does today). The representations of Genghis (Paddy Daly) and Moose (Balvinder Sopal) were accurate, frightening and there was genuine hatred felt by the audience towards their fascist characterisation. It was superb acting and whilst clearly set in 1985, the narrative made sure their performances felt contemporary and sent some important messages about community and humanity.
Adding to Kureishi’s fine adaptation and some acting brilliance was Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe of iconic British pop duo Pet Shop Boys who provided the musical interludes for the show. These were well timed and kept the pace of the production high and energetic. Nikolai Foster (Director) has, without a doubt, taken Kureishi’s work and made a wonderfully reimagined version of a classic movie, to the point where you could fully believe, this was the stories’ first outing for the world’s eyes to see. The first season back at the Leeds Playhouse is well underway, and there is no better show for you to make your return, or indeed first visit to the theatre.
My Beautiful Launderette is a Leeds Playhouse, Curve, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Everyman Theatre Cheltenham co-production and will play in the Courtyard theatre from 15 – 26 October.