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My Beautiful Laundrette at Birmingham Rep

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by dpm (subscribe)
dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
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Classic eighties movie comes to the stage
Hanif Kureishi's My Beautiful Laundrette was a hugely successful film in the mid-1980s so in some ways it's a surprise it has taken this long to reach the stage in a national tour. It tells the story of Omar, a mixed race youngster who takes on the management of a laundrette and offers a job and friendship to a former schoolfriend and white supremacist Johnny. As their friendship develops into a relationship, they are both pulled in different directions by their friends and family.

My Beautiful Laundrette
My Beautiful Laundrette

There is a lot going on in this production and there is a risk the main narrative, the relationship between the two young men, gets lost in the fog of issues. There's parental suicide and its impact on the child, there's racism, there's the question of identity, there's homosexuality, there's drugs, there's racial stereotypes, there's unemployment, there's the hopelessness for young people in Thatcher's Britain, there's gender inequality, there's infidelity, there's alcoholism and there's parental control. And indeed a whole lot more.

Director Nikolai Foster does a good job in trying to keep the narrative on track but there are so many loose ends it can be difficult to keep the focus.

Omar Malik plays the lead role of Omar, a young man searching for his identity in so many different ways. When he goes to work for his uncle Nasser (Kammy Darweish) he's thrown into a new world of conflicting loyalties. Indeed Omar discovers there's a whole load of dirty laundry in this family. His hope comes from taking over a run-down laundrette and his relationship with Johnny a relationship which breaks all boundaries.

Jonny Fines plays Johnny as a mix between louche, disaffected and vulnerable. He's a young man with few roots who has no idea where to find his place in life. And Cathy Tyson plays the sassy but ultimately kind-hearted Rachel, Nasser's not-so-secret lover.

Interestingly Foster asked Gordon Warnecke, who played Omar alongside Daniel Day-Lewis' Johnny in the 1985 film, to take on the role of Omar's father Papa. Shuffling around the stage, Papa is a faded figure dependent on the bottle but determined his son will achieve.

Grace Smart's costumes and designs set us in the 1980s blending the bleak landscape of scaffolding and graffiti with the pop chart colours of the laundrette with its yellow washing machines and bright neon sign. The pop element is furthered with new music commissioned for the production from the Pet Shop Boys.

In many ways, My Beautiful Laundrette is brutal with every character struggling to shape the life they want in a world which offers little help. Even Omar and Johnny are building their success on crime and deceit and yet there's an optimism in their hopes for the laundrette and for their future.

A co-production between Leicester Curve, Coventry Belgrade, Cheltenham Everyman and Leeds Playhouse, My Beautiful Laundrette is at Birmingham Repertory Theatre until November 9. See or call 0121 236 4455 for ticket information.
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Why? Stage version of a classic eighties film
When: Until Nov 9
Phone: 0121 236 4455
Where: Birmingham Repertory Theatre
Cost: From 15
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