Can cultural and religious differences ever be fully overcome in order to let a relationship work? Welcome to the questions asked by the protagonists in “East is East” currently at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley.
In Salford, Manchester, Jahangir “George” Khan (Simon Nagra) lives in a traditional two-up, two down with his wife Ella (Pauline McLynn), six of his seven children – Abdul (Dharmesh Patel), Tariq (Ashley Kumar), Maneer (Darren Kuppan), Saleem (Assad Zaman), Meenah (Salma Hoque), and Sajit (Adam Karim) – and runs the local chippy, assisted by his family and Auntie Annie (Sally Banks). George is not your average Mancunian. He is a Pakistani Muslim who came to the UK in 1937. In his time he met and fell in love with local girl Ella and, despite the comments and active discouragement of his family, settled down to a life of wedded bliss. It is now 1971 and George has grown older, and more conservative over the years.The war between East and West Pakistan is obsessing him, as is his need to be respected within the local Pakistani community. To George’s mind, this means that his wife and especially his children need to be brought into line and learn to behave in a traditional Pakistani way. Whilst Ella is prepared to indulge Geroge up to a point, she is a very traditional Northern mother and her children are her world. When George decides that Abdul and Tariq are to be married to the daughters of his ‘friends’ Mr and Mrs Shah (Kammy Darweish and Sakuntala Ramanee) the clash between East and West really comes to a head.
Most people, myself included, don’t realise that “East is East” was a play before it became a hit film in 1999, but it was and this particular version of the show is a lovely transfer from its recent popular run in the West End. Writer Ayub Khan Din manages to not only evoke the time the play was set but give each of his characters a real spark of life so that you cannot help but be drawn into their story – which is probably only a glimpse of the running battles between George and Ella throughout their life together. There is obvious love there but at the same time, an undercurrent of something else. George definitely has a temper, and you have the feeling that Ella has suffered at his hands before – particularly when their eldest son Nazir ran away to be a hairdresser and live with another man. But it is also obvious that Ella can stand up for herself, both linguistically and physically when she has to. More importantly, as we discover during a conversation between her and Auntie Annie, Ella knows which battles she really has to fight, and win. Coming from the North I recognise so many of Ella’s qualities in my own friends and family. The steadfastness, determination and self sacrifice to look after the family at all costs, particularly the children – as she rightly says ‘Nazir may be dead to George but he is still her son. George, on the other hand is a difficult man to understand. One of the problems with the narrative is the lack of back-story. I really wanted to know how Ella and the ultra-traditional George met and fell in love. What sacrifices he made in order to overcome the opposition of his family and marry the woman he loves – something he is not prepared to allow for his own children.
Simon and Pauline are wonderful in these roles and there is a real chemistry between the two of them as they bicker, snipe, argue and fight in front of us. They are a couple that have married for 25 years and put up with each others foibles and habits as they face the world together. A lovely piece of acting from the two leads.
The rest of the cast is equally talented, especially Salma and Adam as Meenah and Sajit respectively who are simply perfect in their roles as a tough talking Northern girl and a boy on the verge of manhood that wants to block out the nasty thing in the world by hiding in an oversized parka – who hasn’t wanted that at some time or other.
The direction by Sam Yates is spot on, making full use of the Churchill’s stage and the really impressive set, designed Tom Scott – a lovely backyard familiar to anyone from the North (or who watches Coronation Street), complete with only one corrugated iron bin (this was in the days before recycling and a million different coloured bins) – to really evoke the era of working class Manchester in the 1970’s.
“East is East” is a powerful play that raises a lot of questions around how different cultures, backgrounds and beliefs can sit comfortably side by side without one or the other having to be compromised or fighting for supremacy? Not just that but also how much tradition do the next generation need or indeed want in order to live their lives in the way they believe is right? Questions that, unfortunately, are still as prevalent today as they were when they were first asked in this wonderful show.
Review by Terry Eastham
East Is East
Following a critically acclaimed West End run and a limited season tourm Ayub Khan Din’s EAST IS EAST, starring the award-winning PAULINE MCLYNN, has embarked on a 16 week national tour commencing 11th June 2015.
Pauline McLynn (Father Ted, Shameless, EastEnders) will play Ella Khan in Ayub Khan Din’s critically-acclaimed play East is East, which was part of Jamie Lloyd’s second Trafalgar Transformed season, directed by Sam Yates, on a 16 week National Tour from 11 June 2015, commencing at Theatre Royal, Brighton. East is East is designed by Tom Scutt, with lighting by Richard Howell and sound and music by Alex Baranowski.
Pauline will be joined by some of the original cast from the West End production of East is East: Ashley Kumar (Tariq Khan), Darren Kuppan (Maneer Khan) and Sally Bankes (Auntie Annie).
Other confirmed venues for the East is East National Tour include the Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury (22-27 June), New Victoria Theatre, Woking (29 June – 4 July), Churchill Theatre, Bromley (6-11 July), Princess Theatre, Torquay (13-18 July), Regent Theatre, Stoke (20-25 July), Theatre Royal, Nottingham (27 July – 1 August), Grand Opera House, York (3-8 August), Theatre Royal, Glasgow (10-15 August), The Alhambra Theatre, Bradford (31 August – 5 September), Sheffield Lyceum (7 September – 12 September) and Bath Theatre Royal (14 September – 19 September) with further dates announced shortly.
Pauline McLynn said “I am very excited to be part of this production. The play by Ayub Khan Din is sparkling, funny and tender and I’m delighted to be working with the brilliant Sam Yates. I cannot wait to get out there with it!”
Jamie Lloyd, Artistic Director of Trafalgar Transformed, said “As a part of our drive to make our work accessible to all, I am very excited to present the first major tour of a Trafalgar Transformed production. I am thrilled that so many more people, all over the country, will get to see Sam Yates’ vivid production of this modern classic, and I’m delighted to welcome Pauline McLynn to the company.”
Pakistani chip-shop owner George Khan – “Genghis” to his kids – is determined to give his children a strict Muslim upbringing against the unforgiving backdrop of 1970s Salford. Household tension reaches breaking point as their long-suffering English mother, Ella, gets caught in the cross fire – her loyalties divided between her marriage and the free will of her East is East, Ayub Khan Din’s semi-autobiographical account of British Asian life in the 1970s and the clash of cultures between a multi-cultural family growing up in Salford, is a play that continues to resonate and provoke discussion. Starring award-winning screen icon Pauline McLynn (Father Ted, Shameless and EastEnders) as Ella and a host of the finest British acting talent as the remainder of the Khan family and friends, this long awaited revival of a modern comedy classic promises to be unmissable.
Auntie Annie – Sally Bankes
Doctor/Mr Shah – Kammy Darweish
Meenah – Salma Hoque
Sajit – Adam Karim
Tariq – Ashley Kumar
Maneer – Darren Kuppan
Ella Khan – Pauline McLynn
George Khan – Simon Nagra
Abdul – Dharmesh Patel
Mrs Shah – Sakuntala Ramanee
Saleem – Assad Zaman
East Is East is at the Churchill Theatre Bromley from 6th to 11th July 2015
Tuesday 7th July 2015