East Is East
Ayub Khan Din
Nottingham Playhouse and Northern Stage
From 25 May 2017 to 10 June 2017
Review by Steve Orme
Anyone discovering East Is East for the first time might be forgiven for thinking that parts of it have been rewritten to make it more relevant to contemporary events. But it’s not the script that has changed; as playwright Ayub Khan Din says in the programme, we’re much more aware of the politics of what happens when you try to squeeze children into a culture that doesn’t exist for them.
The play is rivetingly incisive as it lays bare the problems of identity suffered by a family born in Britain to a Pakistani father who wants his children to be brought up in the west with eastern values.
East Is East is set in Salford in the 1970s. George Khan married a white woman 25 years ago and they had seven children, six of whom still live at home. He tries to bring them up to show respect for their father and do what they’re told—but they’re exposed to western ways through school and college and resent the way he treats them.
In an enthralling second half, Ayub Khan Din presents a perceptive yet unnerving look at a family split right down the middle because of their cultural differences. It’s tragic yet hilarious—occasionally both at the same time.
Director Suba Das puts a fresh spin on the play, showing the internecine rivalry through the eyes of the Khan family’s youngest son, the parka-wearing Sajit (an endearing Viraj Juneja). But when you have such strong characters as Vicky Entwistle as the matriarch Ella and Kammy Darweish as George, there’s no need for gimmicks.
Entwistle excels as the feisty wife and mother who puts up with the violence she endures simply because she loves her husband. Darweish is similarly impressive as the steadfast father who thinks of himself as a failure because of his children’s wayward ways.
The children’s characters are all cleverly drawn and acted, their portrayal as individuals heightening their father’s dilemma in getting them to conform.
Omar Malik is the long-haired Tariq who likes girls and Simon Rivers is Abdul, torn between loyalty to his father and wanting to make his own choices. The two of them are at odds with their dad who’s determined they should have an arranged marriage.
Raj Bajaj earns praise for his depiction of Saleem, the student who tells his father he’s studying engineering rather than art. So too do Deven Modha as the petulant, camp Maneer and Sabrina Sandhu as their sister Meenah, occasionally foul-mouthed and embracing some of the more extreme elements of western civilisation.
There are strong performances from Judy Flynn as neighbour Auntie Annie and Rez Kabir as both Dr Mehta, the man charged with having to circumcise Sajit, and Mr Shah, the proud man whose two hefty daughters are to marry the two Khan boys.
I saw a production of East Is East in 2014 in which Mr Shah’s wife accompanied her husband to the Khans’ home to arrange the marriage. The shock at some of the family’s antics is halved in the Nottingham Playhouse production because Mrs Shah doesn’t appear.
But this extremely well performed and staged show illustrates vividly that, 40 years on from when East Is East is set, integration is still a significant issue for society to grapple with.