Mention East is East in a room full of people and the majority of them will recite their own chosen quote from the show, usually a toss up between “mam, dad, the pakis are here!” and “make bloody show of me!” in a faux Salford or Asian accent and then dissolve into a heap of giggles at the memory of the film that was released in 1999 when I was a mere 12 years of age. East is East, written by Ayub Khan-Din, is an account of growing up in a mixed race ethnicity in Salford in the 1970s. Showcasing a cast of Om Puri, Linda Bassett and Jordan Routledge the film opened to rave reviews and although mainly perceived as a comedy, the film portrays themes of love, betrayal, and of course the almost additional character its entirety, religion.
15 years after the success of the film, the screenplay has been brought to life as a stage show by Sam Yates and stars Ayub Khan-Din as Mr Khan, also known as George. East is East takes place amidst the war between East and West Pakistan, the homeland of Mr Khan (“George”), husband, father and chippy owner who moved to England in 1937 after leaving his first wife back in Pakistan. After marrying Ella, and having 7 children (Abdul, Tariq, Maneer, Saleem, Meenah, Sajid and Nazir) Mr Khan is determined to raise his children in the same way as he was: to be faithful to their religion, serve their family and live like “good Muslim boy” (aside from Meenah who has a teenage girl in an all boy household bar his mum feels the constraints and limitations of a Muslim upbringing even more unbearable). “Live like good Muslim” is all well and good, but being raised in England Westernises the Khan childrens beliefs and behaviour. Although one of the boys remains supportive and faithful to the Eastern ways of his fathers wishes, his siblings resent their fathers insistence to raise them in a religion that the culture in that they are surrounded does not support. Mrs Khan, second wife to Mr Khan and mother of the 7 children loves her husband and children dearly but is somewhat caught in between the wants of her husband and her children.
In fact, it’s the delayed circumcision of the youngest child, Sajid (who iconically spends the majority of the storyline in his parka which he says makes him feel invisible) that brings the tension in the Khan household to boiling point, followed by the arranged marriages to be of two of their sons. Ella is exhausted with the comparison of their life in England to that of George’s former life in Pakistan and she is desperate for her husband to accept their children rather than dictate to them and run the risk of more of her children becoming estranged like their eldest child Nazir, who moved out of family home in shame after refusing an arranged marriage.
With simple staging amidst the brick terrace houses of 1970’s Salford, the stage takes on many settings through carefully choreographed changes of authentic 70’s furniture and props by the cast members to make up such scenes as the Khans front living room, the parlour, a hospital consulting room and the chippy. The show features a streamlined cast of only 11 actors, the majority of which make up the Khan’s: a family of such diverse personalities and opinions that the day to day life of the family is only heightened by the scrutiny and intense expectations of their father.
Individually the performances by the actors are superb and It’s been a while since I’ve attended the theatre to watch a play and despite the lack of song and dance like that of a musical, East is East was thoroughly entertaining. There were noticeable changes between that of the play and the film of the same name, whole scenes were cut from the play and although I understand the reasoning due to staging constraints etc at times I did feel it take away from the story somewhat and the show appeared to end quite abruptly. Nevertheless, the play much like the film successfully explores the social and generational tensions of mixed race ethnicity under an entertaining veil of comedy.
East is East will run until Saturday 25th July at the Regent Theatre in Hanley and is an entertaining and thought provoking play for both fans of the original film and the theatre. Tickets are available online or by calling the box office.