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A CurtainUp London London Review
East is East

"East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet." — Rudyard Kipling
East is East
Amit Shah as Abdul and Darren Kuppan as Maneer (Photo: Mark Brenner)
Ayub Khan Din stars in the revival of his own play set in 1971 but first produced in the 1990s at the Royal Court and later made into a successful film. I remember seeing the film and being impressed by Linda Bassett as Ella Khan, the white woman married to the Pakistani husband and fish and chip shop owner, George (here Ayub Khan Din), and mother to seven children. In this production, diminutive Jane Horrocks takes on the role of the mother. As a study of a cross cultural marriage in the 1970s, it is full of difficulties and contradiction.

Set in Salford, a suburb of Manchester, the children are trying to carve their own path while their father has other ideas for their future. Whilst we warm to every one of the children and to Jane Horrocks' long suffering mother it was impossible for me to have any respect for or feel any warmth for George, a tin pot dictator bullying his whole family with control and violence.

The eldest boy has left home after not seeing eye to eye with his father and is presumed gay. The next two are Abdul (Amit Shah) dutiful and hard working in the chip shop and Tariq (Ashley Kumar) an Asian James Dean in leather jacket with his hair in a quiff. Next are Saleem (Nathan Clarke) an art student and his religious brother Maneer (Darren Kuppan), whom everyone calls Gandhi. The youngest boy is never seen unless he is wearing his parka zipped, with the fur lined hood up. Sajit (Michael Karim) is introverted and prefers hanging out in the coal shed rather than in what must be an overcrowded house. The only girl is Meenah (the delightful Taj Atwal) who is spirited with a great sense of mischief.

George has lined up two fat, ugly daughters of his successful businessman friend, Mr Shah (Hassani Shapi), for marriage to Abdul and Tariq. The first meeting with their proposed in laws, Mr Shah and Mrs Shah (Rani Moorthy), has the whole family on best behaviour. Meenah is wearing a beautiful sari only to be criticized by Mrs Shah for not wearing the Pakistani traditional long top and matching trousers. This scene is very funny with Mr Shah drinking his tea out of the saucer of his cup and saucer and Sajit refusing to take off his smelly parka.

Much of the first act comedy centres around Sajit's impending circumcision with all those jokes about the male anatomy. However in the second act in an argument, George punches his wife hard and although we know he is unpleasant, this behaviour is very uncomfortable to watch. It also made me ask why this play was being revived? What does it contribute to our understanding of differing cultures to see an abusive relationship? In the news from 2012, in another suburb of outer Manchester is Rochdale where organized gangs of Muslim men, of Pakistani and Afghani origin were preying on vulnerable girls, some as young as 12 or 13. In the care of social services, these girls, were gang raped after being groomed with Balti food and free taxi rides. In Rotherham, fifty miles to the East another grooming operation has been exposed in 2014 involving men of Pakistani origin. 18 men are being investigated involving the alleged abuse of 283 children. These men have largely escaped prosecution because of the perceived unreliability of the girl witnesses in view of their difficult backgrounds. It is a scandal and shameful.

The East is East set is the back of close knit, red brick terraced houses with the sitting room sofas and an area at the back representing the fish and chip shop.

Hitting his wife and his sons is how George Khan shows his family who is in charge. It is rule by fear. He sends money and expensive fabric back to Pakistan to his first wife while second wife Ella slaves away in the shop and home.

The ensemble performances are wonderful, especially Taj Atwal and Michael Karim and there are many very funny moments but the lasting impression I have from East is East is of domestic abuse. It so easily could be one of those plays where a member of the audience walks onto the stage, takes on the character of George and lands a punch of her own.

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East is East
Written by Ayub Khan Din
Directed by Sam Yates

Starring: Jane Horrocks, Amit Shah, Taj Atwal
With: Sally Bankes, Nathan Clarke, Michael Karim, Ayub Khan Din, Ashley Kumar, Darren Kuppan, Rani Moorthy, Hassani Shapi
Design: Tom Scutt
Lighting: Richard Howell
Movement and Choreography: Georgina Lamb
Musical Director: Dean Austin
Fight Director: Kate Waters
Composer and Sound Design: Alex Baranowski
Running time: Two hours 10 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0844 871 7632
Booking to 3rd January 2015
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 15th October 2014 performance at Trafalgar Studios Two Whitehall London SW1A 2DY (Rail/Tube: Charing Cross)
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