Phil Hopkins, Arts & Travel Editor

The Launderette That Will Put You In A Spin

The title of Hanif Kureishi’s screenplay, My Beautiful Launderette, conjures up images of a bygone era when people who couldn’t afford a washing machine – like my mum – trundled off to ‘Bubbles’ to dry off what the old twin tub couldn’t possible make ‘snuff dry’!

However, it is also a title that belies the true reality of the original Oscar-nominated film, now adapted for the stage, and, for all its wonderful humour, it is a play that gets to grips with some of life’s more contentious issues.

Racism, bigotry and arranged marriage all fall under the spotlight and, if you have a latent opinion about any of those subjects, this is surely a play that will bring them to the surface and make you question those darker aspects of your inner psyche.

Omar, played by his namesake Omar Malik, is a young British Pakistani who transforms his uncle's rundown laundrette into a thriving business.

But, when confronted by a fascist gang, he recognises schoolfriend Johnny and uses their history to diffuse the situation. As they renovate the laundrette together, love blossoms.

At times the Anglo Pakistani mix of Kureishi’s work has overtures of Ayb Khan Din’s East is East, although the material is, in many ways, sharper-edged and, at times, makes you screw your toes up as racism from both sides of the cultural fence permeates the stage in this culture clash offering.

Hareet Deol is drug-dealing wide boy, Salim, in his pink suit and dark shades. He was edgy, testing and thoroughly watchable, whilst Kammy Darweish as Omar’s uncle Nasser, was suitably arrogant, seeking to justify a lifelong affair to himself whilst somehow believing that it was his wife’s role in life to accept anything he fired in her direction.

Laced with lots of wonderful humour and tinged with more than a smattering of social, edgy realism, this is not a play designed to make you wholly comfortable and it will rattle cages.

Tania (Nicole Jebeli) as a young Asian challenging traditional convention, asks Omar to marry her so that she can avoid having to return to Pakistan for an arranged marriage. Nazi thug Genghis (Paddy Daly) is upset when Johnny mellows and starts to develop love for Omar, for failing to stay with ‘his own kind’.

Malik as Omar was convincing as the man who is totally at one with his cultural roots but still savvy enough to navigate his way around the ‘white’ Britain of his birth whilst sidekick Johnny (Jonny Fines) became more watchable with every passing minute.

Smaller companies often double up on characters and My Beautiful Launderette is no exception, however, the only aspect that momentarily didn’t work for me was having Asian actor Balvinder Sopal, excellent as Pakistani mum Bilquis, doubling up as white racist thug, Moose. The casting was in stark contrast to some of the ‘supremacist’ dialogue.

This is definitely a play to be enjoyed if enjoyment is about being mesmerised for a couple of hours. Edgy, funny, kind, sad, hateful; it will deliver a spectrum of emotions to get you thinking and, at the end of the day, that is what good theatre is all about. One to watch.

My Beautiful Launderette
Leeds Playhouse
Until October 26th