The 1985 film My Beautiful Laundrette has been adapted for the stage to depict the ground-breaking cross-cultural gay love story set in the heart of Thatcher Britain.
It’s a punchy, powerful and profound story that touches on themes of race, gender, masculinity and feminism. The theatricality of the play brings heaps of nuance to the story and the characters bring it to life through their wit, warmth and inevitable flaws.
Directed by Leicester Curve’s Nikolai Foster, the co-production with the Belgrade Theatre, Cheltenham’s Everyman and Leeds Playhouse proves that it is a play that mirrors the cities around the UK. Despite being set during the height of the 80s, it still deeply resonates with today.
We meet a young Pakistani named Omar (Omar Malik) whose Thatcherite uncle wants him to make something of himself. He trusts him with his laundrette and challenges him to do it up and use it to create a business. When he reunites with old school friend Johnny (Jonny Fines) – an angry fascist who is struggling with his identity, they ignite a relationship.
Omar is already exposed to a tough upbringing, with his father battling alcoholism, his pressurised culture, drug running, affairs and mistreatment of women, he certainly has a lot on his plate.
Omar Malik plays the role with sincerity and he displays his vulnerability through determination to get himself out of his family’s cycle of poor decisions. With a modern outlook on life, he wants to break free from their culture. Jonny Fines plays the complex role excellently as he captures the light and shade of his character through his conflicting mind. Their chemistry is touching and extraordinarily convincing.
Grace Smart’s design creates staging that not only smoothly transitions from Omar’s household, to the laundrette and the streets of London, but it is incredibly inventive. The metallic set is sprayed with neon graffiti – it’s a stylish piece of work. With the help of the score written by the Pet Shop Boys, we are literally transported into the heart of 80s Thatcher Britain.
My Beautiful Laundrette is a superb piece of theatre that is entertaining yet packs a real punch. With strong messages that ask important questions about our society, ultimately it’s a story of star-crossed lovers that fight against society’s restraints to find happiness.
On at Birmingham Rep until Saturday 9th of November, tickets and information can be found on their website.