Right from the outset East is East’s narrative is dominated by tyrannical father George Khan played with great authority and strength by Simon Nagra. George is known as Genghis due to his sociopathic ways, and gradually reveals himself as a bigoted bully who blusters on with foul language and violence to get his own way.
Admittedly he does this out of a sense of duty and a desire to carry on the Muslim methods of raising a family. He believes this to be the ‘right’ way despite living in a multicultural society where tolerance and diversity are the ideals, though unfortunately rarely found in the 1970s Salford the show is set in.
The action takes place against the background of the India-Pakistan conflict leading to a new partition which George feels will affect his relations in Pakistan. The are lashings of black humour while we are shown the nature of the culture clashes and the dysfunctional family enhanced by the generation gap.
So the main themes are of family, community and nationality and an examination of the conflict, schisms and tensions they nurture. It also looks at identity, belonging and respect, the latter word used unfortunately by George in his most disrespectful moments.
Ella Khan, George’s long-suffering wife, is brought to life with clarity and alacrity by the much-talented Pauline McLynn. On top of her duties as a mother of seven, who she protects fearlessly against his more extreme ideas, whilst also running the family’s chippe.
And a breath of fresh air (although she chain smokes) is Auntie Annie, who is able to see things from outside. She frequently calls on the Khans for a gossip, full of irreverent with and Sally Bankes displays crucial comic timing and acts out the amiable neighbour with deft dexterity.
The third female character is more of a sketch really: Meenah only gets attention when forced to wear a sari for the Shahs’ visit, the most hysterically funny scene in the piece and a fabulous climax.
The sons – Sajit, Tariq, Maneer, Abdul and Saleem exceed in their roles as an excellent ensemble and Sam Yates’ masterful direction brings out Ayub Khan Din’s cleverly written characters with aplomb. Tom Scott’s Salford set is both believable and functional and the costumes conjure up the early 70s era.
A tour de force that highlights such universal issues as tolerance, tradition and prejudice in their widest sense.
Reviewed at Alhambra Theatre Bradford, where it runs until 5 September.
And for touring, see Trafalgar Transformed’s website.