johnny and Omar

Jonny Fines as Johnny and Omar Malik as Omar. Pictures: Ellie Kurttz

My Beautiful Laundrette

Birmingham Rep


Hanif Kureishi‘s 1985 Oscar-nominated film My Beautiful Laundrette has been adapted for the stage and directed by Nikolai Foster in a new co-production between Curve Leicester, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Everyman Theatre Cheltenham and Leeds Playhouse.

Set in South London during the Thatcher years against a stylised eighties backdrop, the play highlights the politics of its time and tackles many themes including, racism, immigration, sexuality and youth unemployment; some of which are just as relevant today.

The set design by Grace Smart is clever and eye catching. Complete with scaffolds, lampposts, graffitied walls and washing machines it captures the style and period of the piece perfectly. The lighting design with its atmospheric blues and neon signs is effective and is complimented by the accompanying soundtrack, written by The Pet Shop Boys which captures the spirit of the era.

The story follows young British Pakistani Omar (Omar Malik), who transforms his uncle's London laundrette into a thriving business. He reconnects with an old school friend/bully Johnny (Jonny Fines), an unemployed, disillusioned and violent fascist who is part of a gang of skinheads that have been drawn into the angry world of the National Front.


Balvinder Sopal as Bilquis and Nicole Jebeli as Tania

Omar offers him a job in the launderette and gives him the chance to break away from a life of no opportunities or prospects; something that he so desperately craves. They begin a relationship and together transform the run-down launderette into a shiny neon-lit one that they rename, Powders.

A gay-interracial relationship may not be as shocking in today’s world but in 1985 this would have been ground breaking. Malik plays the role with a gentle charm and gives a tender performance which is well matched by Fines who skilfully balances the brutish and fierce thug with an endearing vulnerability. Both give strong performances and work well together to tentatively build a believable partnership.

Running alongside this love story we are introduced to the challenges faced by Omar’s cousin, Tania in a feisty performance by Nicole Jebeli as she rebels against her father's expectations for an arranged marriage. Her father and Omar’s uncle, Nasser is portrayed with a natural energy and realism by Kammy Darweish. His business partner, Salim is delivered well with a slimy, unlikeable menace by Hareet Deol.

There was good support from the ensemble cast on the whole, with some lovely comic moments amidst the gritty storyline. With a cast of nine some of the parts were doubled; Gordon Warnecke, who played Omar in the original film plays the part of Papa (34 years on), Omar’s left wing, widowed and alcoholic father and also the part of Zaki. Cathy Tyson as Rachel and Cherry, Paddy Daly as Genghis and  Dick O’Donnell and particular mention for Balvinder Sopal who plays Nasser’s obedient and domestic Muslim wife, alongside the white, male fascist Moose.

At times the pace of the production felt slow and some of the delivery didn’t quite hit the mark. Having never seen the film it’s difficult to know how well it has translated to the stage.

Although firmly set in the eighties, this is a cross cultural play, tackling issues that are just as familiar in today’s society, particularly in the current political climate. To 09-11-19

Emily & Dexter Whitehead


Index page Rep Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre