This staging of East is East stars its very own writer: Ayub Khan Din. This play first premiered in 1996, was later adapted into an acclaimed film by Ayub himself and has a long history of awards. It portrays the life of a British Pakistani family living in Salford in 1971. George Khan has emigrated to England in 1936, married a local Englishwoman with whom he had seven children and now attempts to raise them into the Pakistani culture.
However this is not an easy task, as one can hardly expect children that are born in England to accept something such as arranged marriages. In today’s society a parent would not be able to demand blind respect or blind obedience from their children without expecting rebellion. The conflict in this play revolves around the issue of a cultural gap between parents and children but this is not the only issue and not the only gap to be minded. Those children, however British they may feel, tend to be faced as the ‘others’ by the rest of the community. This matter of cultural ambiguity is a very current and pertinent problem in today’s world and seems a very valid theme to be addressed in a play.
From the drama point of view this tragicomedy features some very strong performances. Jane Horrocks plays Ella Khan in a very convincing and rather touching way. Though at first she appears an ordinary housewife, slightly bored, drilled into her habits and entitled to her opinions, we soon understand this is no ordinary woman as she is married to a deeply religious Pakistani man and there are many moments when she is forced to resign to silence and respect the husband figure. When she doesn’t she is faced with violence. It is hard to witness these moments as we become very fond of this good-hearted mother and wife. Taj Atwal also stands out as the only daughter of the couple, the high-paced Meenah. She is bold, a little boyish and not what one would expect from a Pakistani girl with such a strict father. Sally Bankes as Auntie Annie has sharp comic timing and is a joy to watch.
Overall the cast delivers very believable performances although George Khan did seem a very pleasant, even likeable man in the beginning and a quite disturbing human being in the end, perhaps this was the intention but it did take me by surprise to see such a considerable change.
Although the first half felt a bit lengthy at times, with some unnecessary parts in the driving of the story, the second part flowed very well, was full of energy, comedy and tension. While the end of the play does resolve the particular problem of the arranged marriages of two of the Khan children with a couple of “hefty” Pakistani girls, it does leave open the question of whether George Khan will finally respect his family’s wishes or if he will keep fighting against the stream of a modern British culture. Let us not dismiss the incredible loneliness Khan must feel in this imposing of his loved culture and religious beliefs onto his children whom he does care about. How far can one bend without breaking? 4/5
Review written by sofia Moura.
East is East is currently showing at the Trafalgar Studios until Friday 3rd January 2015. For more information on the production, visit here…