The Above the Stag Theatre is currently hosting an adaptation of Harif Kureishi’s Academy Award-nominated film My Beautiful Laundrette. Set in London during the iron-fisted reign of Margaret Thatcher, this British comedy-drama depicts the complex and often humorous interaction between the Asian and white communities in Britain. The plot also deals with a range of issues, such as homosexuality, racism, drugs and, perhaps more subtly, Britain’s economic and political policy in the ’80s – heavily criticised by some people today.
Omar (Yannick Fernandes), a young teenager, lives in London with his Pakistani father Hussein, (Tim Hilborne) a disillusioned journalist who seems to have developed a hatred for all things British. Heavily depressed, Hussein decides to drown his sorrows in vodka, and Omar is forced to care for him. Nasser (Royce Ullah), Hussein’s brother, is a seedy, albeit successful, entrepreneur and a prominent member of London’s Asian community. Desperate for his son to make something of himself, Hussein persuades Nasser to take Omar under his wing; he does so by appointing him the manager of a run-down laundrette and handing him the near-impossible task of turning it into a profitable business.
This venture allows Omar to make contact with his heritage: he meets his long-lost cousin Tania (Nalân Burgess) and other members of the Pakistani community, including Salim, his uncle’s dodgy, drug-trafficking business partner. Omar also re-connects with Johnny (James Wallwork), an old friend from school, who has indulged in a series of racist activities. Omar and Johnny resume their friendship and embark on a romantic relationship. Luck of funds dictate their next moves, and they intercept a drug deal behind Salim’s back. Unsurprisingly, this lands them in serious trouble and both are left fighting to generate profit in order to pay Salim back, so that he will spare their lives.
The play had the potential to be a hard-hitting portrayal of London’s scene during the 1980s. Unfortunately, it was severely jeopardised by over-acting; giving the impression that the action had been over-rehearsed, most probably due to bad direction as opposed to the cast’s lack of talent. It is difficult to achieve the balance between slapstick comedy and consistent, effective acting and unfortunately this was not accomplished in this production. Only two performances stood out throughout the production, those of Hilborne Wallwork. Both managed to keep the pace by delivering their lines confidently and giving a convincingly touching performance.
The space was resourcefully used, but there was an evident lack of attention to detail. Nasser’s home lacked the sense that it was actually a family home. The set looked shoddy, neglected and as such compromised the production’s credibility. Music was used throughout, but it was seldom fitting and frequently lacked context.
This production reaches out to a mass audience, one which could easily relate to the hardships of emigration, of the struggle to make it in a foreign land. Instead, the play’s serious issues frequently suffer as a result of over-acting and the misuse of slapstick comedy; dark humour would have been much more appropriate. Kureishi’s screenplay had the potential to be strike a chord, to stimulate and to provide a night of dark entertainment, but Roger Parsley and Andy Graham’s adaptation and this particular performance have failed to do it justice.
My Beautiful Laundrette is playing at Above The Stag Theatre until 10th April. For information and to book tickets, see their website here.