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 The Theatreguide.London Review

East Is East
Trafalgar Studios   Autumn 2014

The play that inspired the film that inspired the sequel is back in a vibrant new production that does full justice to its comic and dramatic power. 

Ayub Khan Din's 1996 look at a mixed-race Salford family in the 1970s is no mere historical document, though text and Sam Yates's production do capture a strong sense of time and place, and what the play has to say is impressively timeless. 

Thirty-odd years before the opening of the play George Khan came to Britain from Pakistan, where he married a working-class English woman and fathered seven children. George is, unsurprisingly, both conservative and very aware of his Pakistani heritage, and attempts with varying degrees of success to rule his home as his father had. 

But the children, now in their teens and twenties, are beginning to rebel. One son has already been banished for insubordination, two more are prepared to run if father insists on marrying them off to girls they've never met, and another is secretly (with the collusion of the rest of the family) studying art instead of the father-approved engineering. 

Meanwhile mother Ella – who has to have been a strong woman to have followed her heart and entered this marriage – tries to hold the family together, even if that means appeasing one, keeping secrets from another and generally hoping things will blow over, until she is forced to take action and assert her own authority. 

Much of this is light, with the believable banter and everyday humour of any large family enhanced by the cultural clashes – to hear Jane Horricks in her signature broad northern accent shout upstairs 'Abdul. Meenah, Saleem, Sanjit, Tariq, Maneer – breakfast!' is to be told volumes with the most unpreachy of touches. 

But there is serious drama here, too. George is fighting a rearguard battle to hold on to a way of life he believes in, and there are few in the audience who could argue with his desire that his children retain some sense of their Pakistani heritage even as they are assimilated into multicultural Britain. 

We side with his wife and children whenever he imposes his autocratic rule, but we never lose sympathy for the man. 

The playwright himself plays father George, skilfully walking the line that allows him to be ridiculous, imposing and sympathetic at the same time. Jane Horricks brings to Ella all the no-nonsense Northerner that she carries as an actress, without the kookiness that has frequently accompanied it, creating an admirable and attractive strong woman who has learned the power that comes with seeming passivity and subtle manipulation. 

Sally Bankes is entertaining as a very English auntie, and the young actors playing the Khan brood are all first-rate, Nathan Clarke and Michael Karim particularly standing out.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - East Is East - Trafalgar Studios  2014 

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