East is East – Review – Bradford Alhambra
East is East – Review
Bradford Alhambra, August 2015
by Sandra Callard
Ayub Khan Din’s play, East is East, was a comedy hit in 1999 when it was made into an award winning film. It is now playing at the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford, one of the most multi-cultural cities in Britain.
The Khan family live in the old streets of Salford in the 1970s. Father, ‘George’ Khan, emigrated to Britain in the thirties and married a local woman, Ella. They produce a family of five boys and one girl, who are ruled by their overbearing father. He is proud to be Pakistani, whilst hating the Indians who are threatening to take Kashmir in the war over Bangladesh. His avid following of the news intersperses with profanities of very British proportions, which all the family adopt.
The problems of living in a mixed race household are shown in differing ways by each of the Khan clan. George, played to perfection by Simon Nagra, sways between brutality to his family and his wife, and bewilderment at his position as his increasingly rebellious family challenge his beliefs. The cultural confusions of the family are both complex and humorous, and the expletives which litter the play become almost acceptable as they struggle to communicate.
“Endless stream of profanities”
George’s wife, Ella, is a strong woman, and the fulcrum of a dissipating family. Played with fire and humour by Pauline McLynn, her conversations with her sister Annie – a cracking performance by Sally Bankes – are funny and illuminating, and give her a respite from her warring family.
The youngest member of the family, Sajit, has unspecified mental problems, and sees the word from the safety of his parka, which he never removes. Played sypathetically by Adam Karim, Sajit finds solace inside the shed as he retreats from the world.
The Khan boys are at war with their father and each other, but nevertheless have a joyous love of life. Their interaction with each other is very funny. They bounce around the stage in an endless stream of profanities, jokes and insults. I particularly liked Salma Hoque as the only daughter, Meena. She gives as good as she gets from her five brothers, in a quality performance. It absorbs more of her Salford upbringing than her Pakistani ancestry.
One very telling point in the play is when the boys suggest their parents should divorce. It happens after George hits Ella, and tries to marry two of the boys off to a family with unattractive daughters. Both George and Ella react with disbelief and horror at the suggestion. The family realises that, in spite of the many problems they have, their parents do actually love each other. It is a pivotal moment for the family, and very moving.
East is East is not a comedy that bows to disaffected Muslims. Instead it explores various cultural divides and tensions that are prevalent in any number of marriages and multi-cultural families. It examines with great humour the struggle to define ourselves and the way we want to live. As well as the problems that any family goes through with generational tensions.
These problems will never go away, the goalposts will simply be moved. This play is primarily a comedy, and it certainly delivers on laughs. But it has a serious undercurrent which makes you leave the theatre smiling, but pondering.
images: Marc Brenner