East Is East – Richmond Theatre
I had very high hopes for Jamie Lloyd Production’s version of East is East. Having been adapted for the stage from the excellent film, the show follows a Pakistani family in 1970s Salford and their father’s battle to bring his children up in the traditional way in modern England. Adapted by the film’s screenwriter Ayub Khan Din, who also takes on the role of the overbearing father, this production is much the same as the movie, but lacks the bite, grit and pacing that made the original so watchable.
The trouble with film adaptations is that the theatre really has to add something special or unexpected to compete with the big budgets and multiple location shots that the original has. Sometimes this can work fantastically (Billy Elliot, Shakespeare in Love and even Dirty Dancing being examples) but one of the worst things a production team can do is simply try and recreate the original in front of a live audience. Unfortunately East is East falls into this camp and, while it’s enjoyable enough to watch and fans of the film will love it, the production brings nothing new to the table.
However, as well as exploring issues surrounding race and immigration, it also gives a real flavour of Northern working class towns in the 1970s with coal sheds, sharing beds and endless rounds of tea forming the backdrop of the action. Sam Yates’ direction has Jane Horrocks’ Mrs Khan and her best friend (hilariously played by Sally Bankes) shrouded in a cloud of cigarette smoke and busy body gossip. Horrocks is excellent as the tough but long suffering mother and she attacks the script with the determination of a terrier. Less convincing is Ayub Khan Din’s performance as George Khan. The script centres around the family’s fear of this imposing patriarch, but Din lacks the ferocity needed for the part. Disappointingly, the fight scene between Horrocks and Din is appalling and lets the whole production down.
There are some fantastic moments in this production and the whole show builds towards a climatic afternoon tea where the perspective parent in-laws are greeted to a very visual culture clash and it’s this scene where the show really shines. Ultimately, East is East had the potential to be a sterling production, but alas, there are just too many let-downs for it to be top quality.
East Is East is playing at the Richmond Theatre until 24 January 2015 when it goes to Manchester to finish its UK tour.
Reviewed by Roz Carter