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My Beautiful Laundrette - play review


Guaranteed to be one of the most thought-provoking shows you'll see this year, My Beautiful Laundrette is a political powerhouse in powder form. Deciphering the meaning of the makings and breakings of social barriers, the film of the same name made waves back in 1985, and the themes remain ever relevant today.

In a thorough exploration of conflict and divide between racial communities, the production features a bold view of Thatcher's Britain, where tension and turmoil linger on every corner. Perpetuating Pakistani culture, Omar (Lucca Chadwick-Patel) and his ailed Papa (Gordon Warnecke) contemplate their future. After agreeing to work for his uncle Nassar (Kammy Darweish) Omar starts rising the ranks and growing his desire for business success. Alongside, is Salim, playing a risky game and enticing involvement, but when threats from a racist gang loomed, a face all too familiar could defuse the situation.

From washing cars to washing clothes, Omar is granted the local run-down laundrette, and assigns his former school friend, Johnny (Sam Mitchell), to try and rekindle things. In a bid to settle differences for feelings much larger than just passion for making money, they begin to catch feelings for one another, despite going against the tide to do so.

With a script weaving in-depth complexities of the characters presented, Hanif Kureishi's writing (known previously for the successful screenplay), alongside Nicole Behan's direction creates a fascinating depiction of the meaning of identity, and how we use this to love both ourselves and others. Despite the discussions of a vast scope of themes - including but not limited to generational views, gender equality, race, heritage and class - the sexuality aspect, evidently playing a large role, is not overly focused on but still given enough airtime, giving it a more natural sense, without being intensified or overlooked. It's not often that a piece can touch on such a mass without failing to provide the richness of each, though there is a balance and fluidity in this that appears to give a different impression to other plays of a similar nature.

Highlighting double standards is a strong underlying idea, particularly with the pressures on his cousin Tania (Sharan Phull) as a woman, and the concept of tradition being upheld in families: the expectation of arranged marriage for her to not be able to achieve her dreams, yet Nassar has Rachel (Emma Bown) as a mistress and the ability to act how he pleases. Furthermore, it is evident that Omar and Johnny in particular (though Tania and even Rachel at times) are given bouts of freedom and release amongst restraints; whimsical moments of playfulness amid the trouble that bring a softer contrast to the harsh environment enclosing them. However, the production can be a tough watch at times, often fuelled with slurs and violence (though resulting in some impressive stage combat). There are genuine audible gasps on occasion when the audience is taken aback at the shocking brutality faced when the communities clash.

Original music by the Pet Shop Boys frequently accompanies the shift in scene, which seems rather fitting for the vibes in the performance, breaking the heavy hue, but adding to the atmosphere. The grungy, grey set is contrasted with bright lights and neon spray: a further representation of the striking oppositions and agendas.

In an interesting reflection of heritage and society, this show has retained its past legacy, while bringing it to a fresh, contemporary view. Narratives like these are crucial to have their place in theatre. My Beautiful Laundrette is a memorable piece and easily sparks discussion, as any good play should.


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