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East Is East - Theatre Review

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by ABC Writer (subscribe)
Freelance journalist with a passion for theatre, the arts, food and books.
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Hilarious comedy on taboo subjects of British Asian life
East is East may not be a new story, but under the current climate of Muslim life coming under scrutiny in Britain, the themes in this drama couldn't be more relevant. It's a gritty, formidable comedy that tackles race and cultural integration head on - with many, many laughs along the way.

East is East2
A stage show of the popular film East is East comes to Birmingham starring Jane Horrocks

Despite being set in 1970s Salford, the themes strike a chord with today's audiences as it surrounds the generational clash of cultures within one family as Pakistani Muslim father George Khan and his white English wife Ella come to blows over their children's futures.

Fish and chip shop owner George tries to force his mainly teenage children to have arranged marriages and live in a strict Muslim fashion despite his mixed race offspring being born and living all their lives in England with each following very different dreams.

It's a bitter-sweet, multi-layered, multi-generational family story with plenty of depth, and even more humour. The script sparkles with one-liners and is extremely witty, not shying away from taboo subjects of race and belonging. It also manages to show that each child has their own path to follow, whether it be in-line with their father's wishes or the opposite.

For every heartbreaking moment, there's a laugh around the corner, and it's that balance that keeps it flowing through scenes that would in other circumstances be too tense and uncomfortable to watch.

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Abdul (Amit Shah) & Maneer (Darren Kuppan) in East is East

The scenes involving the younger generation are particularly strong but the acting talent in this production helps. Michael Karim, in particular, as the youngest of the clan, Sajit, is a joy as he runs around coping with issues over removing his Parka coat. Meanwhile, Ashley Kumar, playing Tariq, looks uncannily like Jimmy Mistri, who made his name playing the role in the East Is East film.

Award-winning Jane Horrocks is exceptional as the wife who is torn between the husband she loves and the children she is willed to protect. It's yet another stage role that is sure to bring her acclaim, following on from her success in The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice. While her husband George is played excellently by Ayub Khan Din - but he knows the part well as he is the playwright who wrote East is East.

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East is East tours after a successful West End run

What's refreshing is that this play appeals to audiences of any culture and it was good to see a very mixed audience in Birmingham enjoying the story when I was there. They enjoyed it so much that the cast had three curtain calls.

As a mixed race child myself, brought up in a British household with an Indian father and white English mother in the 1980s, a lot of the banter between the children rang true for me. But then, this was a semi-autobiographical account of British Asian life in the 1970s for writer Ayub Khan Din, so he was writing from the heart.

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Jane Horrocks stars in East is East

The show is on a UK tour Following a successful stint in the West End and stops off at New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham from January 13 to January 17, before continuing on to Richmond Theatre and the Manchester Opera House.

Director Sam Yates, who made his West End directorial debut with East is East following on from his version of Richard III starring Martin Freeman, has done a fine job of making the play stand out on its own with key differences to the famous British film of the same name.

While it's similar to the movie, there's a lot that has been cut out to simplify it for stage. While that means there is only one main set with few changes, it also means that the sentiment and wit of the excellent script come to the fore.

East is East is not just a wonderfully crafted comedy, it's also a window into the world of the conflicts within a British Asian family. It's an unmissable piece of theatre.

Rating: 9/10

A preview of the show can be seen in this video:


Jane Horrocks (Ella Khan)
Ayub Khan Din (George Khan)
Amit Shah (Abdul Khan)
Ashley Kumar (Tariq Khan)
Darren Kuppan (Maneer Khan)
Nathan Clarke (Saleem Khan)
Taj Atwal (Meenah Khan)
Michael Karim (Sajit Khan)
Sally Bankes (Auntie Annie)
Rani Moorthy (Mrs. Shah)
Hassani Shapi (Mr Shah/Doctor)

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Why? Fantastic gritty and hilarious topical comedy
When: Until Jan 17 in Birmingham, then touring UK
Phone: 0844 871 3011
Where: New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham
Cost: 15.40 - 38.40
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