East Is East
A co-production between Pilot Theatre, the Theatre Royal York and Bolton Octagon
Gala Theatre, Durham, and touring
Review by Peter Lathan
After the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, 9/11 and 7/7, Ayub Khan-Din's 1996 play can be seen almost as an historical document, a snapshot of the way things were. In it we see the problems faced by the six children of the Khan family - mother Englishwoman Ella, father Pakistani George, sons Saleem, Abdul, Tariq, Sajit and Maneer, and daughter Meenah - as they struggle to find their place in 1970s Salford.
The children feel English. Although they all find themselves working in the family chip shop, except for Maneer who fully embraces Islam and Pakistan, they have typically English interests and, in fact, at one point Saleem says to his father, "I'm not Pakistani, I was born here, I speak English, not Urdu." However George hits a nerve in his reply: "You no English, English people no accepting you."
George wants them to accept their Pakistani heritage. Although he has been in England for forty years, he still feels Pakistani and the developing news of the conflict which led to the foundation of Bangladesh, a theme which runs throughout the play, intensifies his feelings. He must be the head of the household and the rest of the family must bow to his wishes, for he is sure that he knows what is right for them. His answer to any opposition is to hit the offender, whether it's his wife or one of the children. Matters come to a head when he decides that Abdul and Tariq will marry the daughters of his friend Mr Shah, girls whom they have never met (and neither, it would appear, has George).
East Is East can best be described as a comedy drama for, although the tensions between father and children, with mother in the middle, and between the Pakistani and the English, explode on a couple of occasions into violence, the emphasis is on comedy and the ending promises some hope. Towards the end Abdul, in a gesture of defiance, goes to the pub but, he tells Tariq, "I didn't belong.... I don't want that out there, it's not who I am, it's as alien to me as me dad's world is to you."
He finds a new maturity right at the end and it is out of this maturity that the hope arises, hope for some kind of compromise between the demands of two very different societies, the secular English and the Muslim Pakistani.
In the light of the events of the last five years, that hope may now seem unfounded, but the play still entertains and still has something to say to the 2006 audience. The set, already commented on in their reviews by J.D. Atkinson (York) and David Chadderton (Bolton), was interesting and indeed clever but - I have to agree with our previous reviewers - a little too heavily (and inappropriately) symbolic. But there can be no criticism of the performances and Damien Cruden's direction keeps the piece moving and the tensions building very effectively.
"East Is East" plays at the Gala until 11th February and then goes on to the West Yorkshire Playhouse , the Marlowe in Canterbury, the Lowry, Poole Lighthouse, Newport's Riverfront and the Leicester Haymarket.