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22nd March 2024

My Beautiful Laundrette review: Nationalism, racial tensions, and political turmoil

Lacking a fresh political perspective, entertaining with classic tunes and compelling design, My Beautiful Laundrette takes stage at The Lowry
My Beautiful Laundrette review: Nationalism, racial tensions, and political turmoil
Credit: Ellie Kurttz @ The Lowry

I had the privilege of watching My Beautiful Laundrette open at the Lowry this Tuesday: a story of a young boy named Omar, trying to make it in his Uncle Nasser’s business whilst navigating a relationship with his ex-fascist business partner and lover, Johnny. Based on the 1985 film of the same name, the play centres debates around race, gender, and class through their effects on Omar and the people close to him.

Two performances particularly stood out: Hareet Deol (Ackley Bridge, Channel 4) as Salim and Sharan Phull (Pink Sari Revolution, The Importance of Being Earnest) as Tania. Salim is Nasser’s right-hand man. He initially dislikes Omar but comes to respect him despite bullying and challenging him along the way. Deol brought a brilliant, dynamic presence to the role, providing a much-needed buoyancy to every scene he was in.

Tania is Nasser’s daughter, a young feminist who is very vocal about her opinions but depends on marrying Omar as her alternatives are much worse. This type of character has been done many times before, and it is easy to fall into cliche, but Phull made her three-dimensional and a genuine joy to watch. The relationship between Omar and Johnny was also well executed, with the two actors having great chemistry together.

The soundtrack for this show was absolutely fantastic. The Clash greeted me with ‘London Calling’ as I entered the theatre, and I enjoyed Pet Shop Boys and Queen throughout the show. These tunes gave a strong sense of time and place as well as bringing energy to the stage.

I felt that the second act sometimes lost momentum, largely through its heavier tone. I would have appreciated this more if there was a greater connection to our modern political climate; many of the play’s themes are still relevant today. However, it was performed in such a way that I felt like I was just being shown history without a new angle. Nonetheless, I felt the politics within the play was handled very professionally. It’s jarring to hear white actors using racist slurs onstage, yet I felt this was an important creative decision, and the fascist characters were well portrayed.

The set (design by Grace Smart) was my favourite part of the show; it was visually engaging the whole way through, thanks to the brilliant use of colour. The whole place felt dilapidated and futuristic, thanks to the combination of the jagged, frayed background and the brilliant neon lights. To great effect, a dirty mirror was used throughout the show; it gave the audience a second view of the characters onstage, yet it wasn’t clean enough to see anything clearly, which introduced a welcome sense of ambiguity. I would definitely recommend seeing this show based on the set alone.

Similarly, the costume design (also by Grace Smart) really helped bring the characters to life. Papa’s declining mental health was perfectly captured by his clothing, which hung off his body, barely in one piece. In contrast, Salim’s pink suit drew the eye in every scene, amplifying his strong presence.

Overall, My Beautiful Laundrette was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Although I didn’t leave the theatre with a fresh political outlook, I did find it memorable due to its exciting visuals and talented performers.

My Beautiful Laundrette is playing at The Lowry until the 23rd and tickets can be found on their website. After that, it will be touring until April 6.

Written by Enid Kirk

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