East Is East
The second production in the second season of Jamie Lloyd’s Trafalgar Transformed season is a beautifully performed revival of Ayub Khan Din’s 1996 play about cultural clashes in 1970s Salford — a work regarded as a landmark in bringing Asian culture to British audiences.
Here the author himself stars as Pakistani chip shop owner George Khan a domineering father to a brood of children born to his English wife, Ella (Jane Horrocks).
While George is preoccupied by the war in East Pakistan, he’s also fighting a battle on the home front as the children — five sons and a daughter — battle to assert their own cultural identity, seeing themselves as British rather than Asian. The explosive George is determined to raise his family in the Pakistani way causing arguments of ever-increasing ferocity in the Khan household, with Ella stuck in the middle trying to stand up for her children and at the same time stay loyal to her husband. Things reach a head when the unshakeable George sets in motion arranged marriages for his two eldest sons to daughters of a local Pakistani businessman — a plan the boys are determined to have nothing to do with.
Ayub Khan Din’s script is a delightful mix of high comedy and tragedy, by turns laugh out loud funny (the first meeting between the Khan family and the prospective in-laws is a comic tour-de-force) and intensely moving. But while this play is first and foremost about the collision of different cultures, it’s also a delightful and perceptive view of family life generally and both the British and Pakistani obsession with class.
Director Sam Yates is well served by a cracking cast. Jane Horrocks and Ayub Khan Din bounce off each other perfectly as the warring parents and they’re given nice support by the rest of the cast, in particular Michael Karin as troubled younger son Sajit, Sally Banks as “Auntie” Annie and Taj Atwal as feisty daughter Meena.
It says much that nearly twenty years after its premiere when we now like to see ourselves as being more culturally inclusive that Ayub Khan Din’s modern classic still has so much resonance.
Reviewed by Tony Peters
East Is East is playing at the Trafalgar Studios until 3 January 2015