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Theatre Review: East is East

31 May 17 words: Lucy Manning

Nottingham Playhouse transforms into 1970's Salford for Suba Das' production of East is East, starring Nottingham Television Workshop's Sabrina Sandhu...

The Khan Kids. Standing, left to right: Abdul (Simon Rivers), Tariq (Omar Malik), Sajit (Viraj Juneja). Kneeling, left to right: Saleem (Raj Bajaj), Maneer (Deven Modha), Meenah (Sabrina Sandhu).

East is East follows the lives of a Pakistani-British family living in seventies Salford. Dad, George Khan (Kammy Darweish) is an authoritarian figure; trying to engage his children in their Pakistani heritage and the religion of Islam with an iron fist. His wife, Ella Khan (Vicky Entwistle), struggles to help her husband understand their seven mixed-race children, keep the kids in line, and run the family chippie all at once.

The production, written by Ayub Khan Din back in 1982, is just as relevant today as it was then. With off-key haircuts and brown wall paper in tow, the story gives us an insight into a family that’s rarely seen on stage or screen, and balances continuously on the knife-edge between serious drama and side-splitting comedy. Proper kitchen sink stuff.

Khan Din’s play tells of the struggles and challenges of integration from both sides of the coin; George is so plagued by his desire to keep his culture alive in the hearts of his children, he forgets that the seven young people living under his roof are, indeed, his kids. They, in turn, struggle to bed-in to their white British community, making themselves the butt of the joke just to fit in, most clearly presented by Omar Malik’s character, Tariq.

It’s the kids that bring this story to life. The chemistry between the rabble is nothing short of electric, with the most enjoyable moments found in those pockets of background action between the siblings. The Television Workshop’s Sabrina Sandhu plays natural-born gobshite, Meenah Khan, to a T; battering her brothers both verbally and physically, and doing Nottingham proud by bringing both subtlety and a keen wit to the role of the second youngest Khan.

There’s a moment of true tenderness in the final scene between the conflicted Abdul Khan, delicately played by Simon Rivers, and the parka-wearing space boy, Sajit Khan (Viraj Juneja). When the family’s proverbial has well and truly hit the fan, young Sajit retreats to his coal shed hideout, leaving his parka-coat disguise in the hands of his older brother Abdul. In one of those beautiful scenes of sparse dialogue and gentle action, the true purpose of family rings loud and clear. There weren’t a dry eye in the house.

The greatest credit to the story is that the story exists in the first place. I can’t recall watching a play where 80% of the cast were Asian. And from conversations with the cast, it’s clear that this is a story that resonates with their own experience. Not only that, but the audience was one of the most diverse I have seen in the theatre in a long time. More of this, please.

East is East is on at Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 10 June, 2017.

Nottingham Playhouse website

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