In keeping with the Trafalgar Transformed season, captained by Jamie Lloyd, East is East is aimed at appealing to a wide bracket of would-be theatre-goers as well as existing ones. Sam Yates’ current production retains the same jovial sense of fun that delighted audiences of the popular 1999 feature film. Composer and sound designer Alex Baranowski does a fantastic job of enlivening the production with music, which becomes an intrinsic player in the tone; upon entering the theatre a background of urban sounds can be heard, evoking 1970s Manchester.
Ayub Khan Din, whose involvement has increased from playwright to lead in this current production, wrote the first draft of East is East in his first year of drama school. Set in Salford in 1970, the play sets out to understand the impact of merging cultures. Patriarch George is terrified of losing touch with his Pakistani identity: with the impending war in his homeland, he sits glued to the news in an effort to remain involved. His attempts of asserting a rigid idea of culture and identity within a home that he himself has sculpted as diverse is, understandably, near impossible. His frustrations escalate into violence and work to drive his family further into rebellion.
The unrefined nature of the women in East is East is their greatest attribute. When compared to the rigid restrictions that George tried to inflict upon his sons, the women appear charmingly rough around the edges. Their vocabulary is littered with ‘bastard’; they are brash, brave and extremely likeable. Sally Bankes as Auntie Annie provides an abudance of northern sass making her a strong contributor to the humorous fabric of East is East.
As Ella Khan, the petite Jane Horrocks is mighty in her presence on stage. With the squabbling sextuplet of children weaving in and out of the myriad entrances and exists of the stage, Ella remains grounded with a puff of smoke ever in her wake. Ella is both physically and verbally dwarfed by George, a state of affairs that makes her increasingly uncomfortable, especially when it inhibits her from sticking up for her own. Ayub Khan Din highlights the road to acceptance to be humour and respect for difference and he utilises the personalities of the children to instil this advice.
The busy stage is a constant wash of slapstick action: from inspecting Saleem’s ‘Tickle Tackle’; hiding pork sausages under the family rug; shocking prospective in-laws with an artistic interpretation of a lady’s intimate area. The humour is born out of a potent concoction of brash, in-your-face modernity blended with fading traditions. Leading much of the humour are the Khan children, who symbolise a melting pot of cultures and must be allowed to stake out their own independent paths. The stark differences between the siblings mark the multiplicity of options they have in their wake, which makes their father’s insistence for rigid traditions all the more redundant.
The latest production of East is East is a successful one. Much of the charm of the well-loved feature film is still alive and kicking in this most recent revival. A strong standard of performance is led by the principal leads, but it is the cast of Khan children who enliven the show and deliver lasting impact.
East is East is showing at Trafalgar Studios until 3 January 2015. For tickets and further information, see the ATG Tickets website. Photo by Marc Brenner.