For anyone familiar with the ground-breaking 1985 film – featuring an eye-catching breakthrough performance from the young Daniel Day-Lewis – this was always going to be one of the highlights of the Playhouse’s first season after reopening.
Set in London during the Thatcher years, it tells the story of young British Pakistani Omar. He is a little lost and directionless, grieving for his mother and trying his best to look after his depressed, heavy-drinking father when his entrepreneurial uncle Salim puts him in charge of his run-down laundrette.
It’s a challenge, but then Omar reconnects with old school friend Johnny – in very difficult circumstances, recongnising him among a gang of skinheads looking for trouble. Omar manages to diffuse the situation because of their connection and Johnny joins him in renovating the laundrette together. As they transform it into a successful business, they fall in love.
Adapted by Hanif Kureishi from his original Oscar-nominated screenplay, this stage version is expertly directed by Nikolai Foster on Grace Smart’s brilliantly versatile set. Banks of washing machines, scaffolding and tube signs, daubed with aggressive grafitti, are adapted to form a range of interior and exterior locations, all against a grey metallic backdrop that perfectly conjures up the downbeat vibe of Thatcher’s Britain.
The cast of nine – with some playing dual roles – create a bustling, energetic ensemble piece, underscored by music from the Pet Shop Boys. (There’s an interestingly poignant piece of casting with Gordon Warnecke, who played Omar in the original film, here playing the part of Papa 34 years on).
And while the racism and homophobia highlighted in Kureishi’s incisive script seem to be raising their ugly heads again today in some quarters, essentially this is still at its heart an uplifting story of love, community, family, belonging – and being true to oneself.
To October 26.