Azooma-ing down the East Coast Line to visit Powders - Liam Rudden

EDINBURGH to Doncaster then Doncaster to Leeds. Not many stage productions tempt me to travel half the length of the country and back just for a night at the theatre, Curve Leicester’s My Beautiful Laundrette is one.

Friday, 25th October 2019, 3:56 pm
Jonny Fines and Omar Malik as Johnny and Omar in My Beautiful Laundrette

Which is why, last Saturday morning I hopped aboard an LNER Intercity 225 to Doncaster.

A journey of just under three hours, a seat in the Quiet Coach let me catch up on some long overdue reading, namely local author Justin Lee Anderson’s The Lost War, Book One of his Eidyn series, set in a world inspired by the areas and landmarks of the Capital. So far I’m hooked - it’s great fun spotting the ‘hidden’ local references. From Doncaster a short trip back up the line found me in Leeds, heading to the city's Playhouse.

There’s little doubt My Beautiful Laundrette was a ground-breaking film when released in 1985. Starring a then relatively unknown Daniel Day-Lewis and Gordon Warnecke, Stephen Frears’ and Hanif Kureishi’s taboo-busting movie set in Thatcher’s Britain, told the love story of Omar, a young Pakistani, and his fascist street punk friend Johnny, as they reunite to reopen a run down launderette owned by Omar’s uncle; Powders is born.

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Could the stage version have the same impact more than three decades on?

In the pivotal roles, namesakes Omar Malik and Jonny Fines (you might have seen him as Zach Mayo in An Officer And A Gentleman at the Playhouse) were enchanting.

Tender, angry, confused and ultimately embracing their attraction, they shared an easy chemistry.

Likewise, Cathy Tyson (last seen in Edinburgh as DI Clarke in Rebus at The King’s), gave a funny, fab and fiery performance as Rachel, the spurned lover of Omar’s uncle.

The casting of Warnecke as his original character’s papa was a lovely nod to the original and clever use of Pet Shop Boys’ music old and new ensured smooth transitions from scene to scene - No Boundaries and Angelic Thug demanded another listen.

One aspect of the production that jarred, however, was the current fad for blind casting, which saw a female of colour sport a vest declaring ‘White is Right’ while butching it up as one of Johnny’s fascist swaggering ‘swastika sporting’ boot boys. Originally played by Stephen Marcus in the movie, suddenly the character Moose was devoid of truth in the stage version.

Distracting, it undermined the underlying message, as did the doubling of a younger white male as an older Asian uncle, complete with comedy ginger wig.

Disappointing really, as blind casting can make a production stronger, Solaris at the Lyceum being a prime example.

Worth the trip none the less, not least because ‘azooma-ing’ me back up the East Coast line was one of LNER’s new Azuma fleet.

Spacious, comfortable and very smooth, stress free travel like this could well tempt me to pop down to Leeds Playhouse more frequently.