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Review: My Beautiful Laundrette (UK Tour)

Review by Daz Gale

 

⭐️⭐️

 

‘Powders’ is open for business again as the much-loved My Beautiful Laundrette returns to Curve Leicester to kick off a revival in the same building where the play premiered in 2018. The original production was a critically acclaimed, roaring success, but in a different climate and with a different team involved, could they clean up again this time around?



Most commonly known as a well-regarded and multiple award-nominated movie in 1985, My Beautiful Laundrette has been adapted into a stage play twice, with this version premiering in 2018. It tells the story of Omar, who begins working for his uncle Nasser, eventually managing a run-down laundrette. He then begins his own enterprise and immediately recruits his childhood friend Johnny and a romantic relationship begins.

 

A fairly mixed bag tonally and thematically, moments of comedy are immediately met with far more serious and uncomfortable themes. One of the more prominent of these is the racism that Omar and his family are met with throughout as a group of extremists target them with abuse and violence. Hanif Kureishi has created a complex and multifaceted piece that has the potential to be breathtakingly powerful. Having written the original film and adapted the play himself, the writing is of supreme quality, leaving no question as to why both the movie and 2018 production were so celebrated.



You may have clocked from my star rating that something didn’t quite work this time, rather unfortunately. While the writing is still as glorious as ever, the execution of it is extremely flawed. The biggest fault of this lies in the direction which was all over the place throughout. With beats not being hit, awkward moments of prolonged silence, and ends to both acts with a muted and confused response, it became apparent that something had gone very wrong here. A clearly talented cast had their skills wasted through what I can only, rather harshly, describe as a lack of direction. It seemed to me like there had been a real lack of thought over how this production could be translated to the stage for each venue it is playing in, which resulted in a severe lack of connection in a production that left me feeling completely cold.

 

There are two possible reasons for this conclusion, and both are instantly fixable. This tour kicked off one week ago so is still very much in the early days. It could just be that the cast and creatives need to find their feet, which I’m sure will happen in time as they become more comfortable and in sync with their characters and the story in itself. The other is that it had been drastically under-rehearsed. Theatre is a beast and with it comes any number of reasons why this might have been the case. Cast sickness or time constraints are two obvious ones. For whatever the reason is, the cast seemed to not be as assured as you would have hoped, though I would expect these problems to be easily remedied as the tour progresses.



I can only go by what I saw at the performance I went to and, speaking of the cast, they were a bit of a mixed bag. Gordon Warnecke played Omar in the original movie so having him return to the production as Omar’s father was an inspired choice, and one that should have been a highlight of the story. However, his portrayal felt very wooden as if he was reading the lines with no context, resulting in zero impact in what should have been a complicated and emotional storyline. Not to point fingers but I don’t think this was the actor’s fault as this lack of care for delivery and slightly stilted acting choices was rife through other cast members – most likely due to the reasons stated above.

 

Some cast members managed to burst through the limitations that may have been faced in the creative process and truly shone for that. The most obvious example of that is Luca Chadwick-Patel who was undoubtedly the best thing about this production in his charismatic and captivating characterisation of Omar. Always filling the stage with his presence, he taps into the character perfectly, making the most watchable and enjoyable elements of the show.



Other standouts in the show were Sam Mitchell as Johnny, bringing depth to what could have been a one-note character initially and maximising the effect when his walls came down. Sharan Phull lit up the stage in her time as Tania, adding another element to the story with the role of women in the family, though her stage time felt too limited as the story took a backseat to Omar and Johnny’s burgeoning romance. The cast in themselves are clearly all talented but needed more direction than it seems they were given.

 

Grace Smart’s set design was fun with its mix of grey and splashes of colour, with a great reveal as the show progresses and Ben Cracknell’s lighting ensured the show was as visually beautiful as it could be. The use of Pet Shop Boys music throughout the show seemed to add nothing to it, often feeling randomly shoehorned in and at times to a jarring effect. Another element that fell completely flat were the fight sequences which again felt too under-rehearsed and not of the standard you would expect, particularly at a theatre as prestigious as Curve Leicester.


 

There is clearly something great about My Beautiful Laundrette as is evident from the response to the last production. However, the magic is not there this time, as sad as that is – not yet at least. Following in the footsteps of the iconic direction of Nikolai Foster may have been an impossible task, and sadly this is the main element that makes the show falter. A complete lack of direction resulting in a clumsy and awkward execution of the story proved a disservice to all of the talented people involved in this show who should have had the opportunity to let their God-given talents shine. This show may not quite be beautiful yet but if they can clean it up a bit, I have no doubt it can get there and ensure business is booming again.

 

My Beautiful Laundrette tours the UK until 6th April with dates in Hornchurch, Wakefield, Salford, Liverpool and Blackpool.


Photos by Ellie Kurttz

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