Hanif Kureishi’s returns to his landmark screenplay My Beautiful Laundrette after more than thirty years bringing it to the stage in Nikolai Fosters vivid production that both authentically recaptures the 80’s aesthetic of the original film whilst also making its central messages around race, prejudice and cultural expectations resonate with a modern audience.
Designer Grace Smart transports the audience right into what feels like the set for an 80’s electropop music video with her silver sprayed set and her neon accented costuming. This aesthetic is further reinforced through the scene change music which is provided by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe of The Pet Shop Boys, which whilst underused does contribute to Smarts reimaging of the era.
The play’s narrative centres around a young British Pakistani man named Omar played by Omar Malik who with little aspirations agrees to take on the rundown laundrette from his entrepreneurial uncle Nasser. He then meets Johnny a similarly unambitious old school friend played by Jonny Fines who has been sucked into the aggressive world of the anti-immigration national front, but who seeks to be reformed. Together, they turn the ironically named Churchill’s laundrette into a thriving neon lit business renamed powders (a subtle nod to the pairs drug selling ventures that aid in the laundrettes growth). As the pair become closer a romance begins to emerge between them and we see both Malik and Fines perfectly capture the hesitancy of their characters as they tentatively and often comically test the waters of the mutuality of their attraction for one another.
Elsewhere, we see Nicole Jebeli portray Tania the headstrong daughter of Nasser who is a central point of tension in the play as she continually clashes with her much more conservative mother Bilquis played by Balvinder Sopal. Tania fiercely attack her mother’s passivity and opposes her parent’s idea of an arranged marriage with Omar as she seeks to gain more freedom than her parents traditional values allow.
Hareet Doel also excellently portrays Salim Omar’s smarmy egotistical cousin who appears to have internalised all the worst traits of thatcher’s capitalist ideologies. In the play we see him head an underground drug business that sells its goods to white kids which Salim considers to be a kind of “reverse-colonialism” and a turning of racial exploitation on its head.
The strength of acting and well thought through set design accumulates in a play that is not a direct copy of its original but a powerful reimagining that speaks to a modern Brexit Britiain.