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My Beautiful Laundrette
ITS almost 35 years since the film My Beautiful Laundrette won plaudits for its depiction of a budding romance between Omar, a young Pakistani man living in London, and Johnny, a street punk who leads a group of right-wing extremists.
A lot has changed socially and politically in the intervening years —the neon signs and baggy pink suits that dominate the design are no longer with us — but this production of Hanif Kuerish’s play, reworked from his original film script, shows that plenty remains the same.
The right-wing extremists led by Johnny (Jonny Fines) may be caricatures, with their swastika head tattoos and St George’s flags, but the “British jobs for British people” placard that one of them holds sends ripples from the 1980s through to Ukip’s Brexit campaign.
And the effects of Thatcherism on community resonate in Johnny’s complaints that all he wants is a job and place to live.
The get-rich-quick ethos of the period underpins much of the production’s humour and community tensions.
Omar’s entrepreneur uncle Nasser (Kammy Darweish) believes that success is knowing “how to squeeze the tits out of the system,” while Papa (Gordon Warnecke) is a once-famous journalist who hates Britain’s society and has sunk into alcoholism.
The younger generation are floundering to find their own identity between these two poles, especially the women, and it’s here that Kureishi has most notably updated the piece.
Omar’s cousin Tania (Nicole Jebeli) and Nasser’s mistress Rachel (Cathy Tyson) both have more agency, with lives that set them apart from their patriarchal families and societal expectations.
Tania’s passionate desire for change and Hussein’s alcoholic bitterness are shot through with provocatively sharp one-liners that transcend the period of the original film, though links with it are there with Warnecke, who played Omar — here performed by Omar Malik — and the Pet Shop Boys, who sound-tracked Thatcher’s years and now provide a fresh, although underused, score.
That continuity, combined with Kureishi’s updates, make this a production that speaks of a conflicted past while giving hope of overcoming difference in the present.
Runs until October 26, box office: leedsplayhouse.org.uk and tours until November 2.
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