Ayub Khan-Din’s East is East is most probably familiar in the form of the 1999, BAFTA award winning film directed by Damien O’ Donnell. However, the piece started life right here in Birmingham; within the Studio of The REP back in 1996. Now, ten years after its highly successful cinematic transfer, the stage adaptation returns home on the theatres main stage.
Set in the early 1970’s, we are introduced to a family unit living in the north-west of England. The political happenings of the time, especially in connection with the conflicts between India and Pakistan, form the background for the piece. The issues dealt with in the performance, of which there are many, are dealt with in subtle style through the means of Khan’s predominantly comic and witty script.
The play also deals with the wider topic of culture and its connotations; tackling an ever present argument between western and eastern culture and their place in contemporary Britain. Asking at what point do these traditions have to change in order to support and mould to the other?
The piece does not seem to provide an answer to these questions, but chooses to present and examine them through the Khan family unit; including Pakistani father figure, George, British working-class mother, Ella, and their seven children.
The ensemble of cast members present the family in an enjoyable fashion, with a believable sense of loyalty between them. However, sometimes the performances edge dangerously toward caricatures rather than naturalistically rounded individuals.
With lines of smoking terraced chimney pots and sliding glimpses of the Khan household, Simon Higlett’s design is a complimentary suggestion of 1970’s northern Britain, without being blatant or abstract.
East is East is the perfect combination of entertainment complimented by serious, relevant themes and political back grounding.