When adapting films for the stage, it helps to start with the right source material. Haneif Kureishi’s story of My Beautiful Laundrette, directed in 1985 by Stephen Frears in a version that made stars of Daniel Day-Lewis and the fledgling FilmFour, is the sort of intimate character piece that could very well have been adapted from a play in the first place.
The story centres around Omar, a young man who is struggling to free himself from the yoke of caring for his alcoholic, infirm father, and so who joins his uncle’s business. As a test, his uncle gives him a rundown, loss-making laundrette to run, and with the help of his old school friend Johnny and the cash generated by stealing, and selling, some drugs from an unpleasant work colleague, the enterprise becomes a success.
The age old themes of love, duty, respect and prejudice are as fresh in this stage adaptation by Roger Parsley and Andy Graham as they did in the original film. The underlying racial tensions, exacerbated by Johnny’s dalliance with the National Front, feel as contemporary as if the play were set in 2011 rather than over 25 years ago. And it is James Wallwork’s Johnny whose central performance ensures this play works. His self-confident portrayal and his undeniable love for Omar allows us to believe that the headstrong, ambitious but ultimately naive young man (played well by Yannick Fernandes) genuinely could succeed in business.
Nalân Burgess as Omar’s cousin Tania and Samantha Ritchie’s Rachel offer fine performances to counteract the testosterone on display from the other cast members. Ritchie in particular is on fine comic form as the louche mistress of Omar’s uncle Nasser, although she also displays an ability with more the dramatic in a second act monologue which, while out of keeping with the rest of the play, brings the character back from the brink of caricature.
Fiona Russell’s set capitalises on the idiosyncrasies of the Stag’s performance space, with its awkward little dogleg providing the perfect space in which to build the laundrette itself, while other interiors are cunningly hidden away until needed.
At the start of this year, it looked as if ATS would now be homeless, as The Stag pub was earmarked for imminent closure as part of the redevelopment of Victoria Underground station and the surrounding area. Thankfully, that closure has been delayed for a while longer, allowing this audacious little theatre to produce a quite special play.
My Beautiful Laundrette runs until April 10. For more information and to book tickets, visit abovethestag.com.