Iqbal Khan’s 25th anniversary production has opened at the NT’s Lyttelton Theatre following a successful run at the Birmingham Rep.
Set in Salford in the early 1970s, East is East tells the story of the Khan family, with George (Tony Jayawardena) wanting to raise his family the traditional Pakistani way. His children have other ideas, however, and their English mother, Ella (Sophie Stanton), is conflicted between her loyalty to her husband and the happiness of her children. The show may now be 25 years old, but it’s amazing how current everything still feels; the jokes still land, the cultural observations are as sharp and relevant as they would have been in the 1990s.
There are some really strong acting performances here. While there isn’t a weak link in the cast, the two we most warmed to were Auntie Annie (Rachel Lumberg), the neighbour with a penchant for tea and biscuits who brought warmth and humour to every scene, and the youngest son of the family, Sajit (Noah Manzoor). Evidently traumatised by the dysfunction surrounding him, he spent most of the show hiding from the world in his parka and locking himself in the coal shed. We found his role really interesting and he played it with a genuine sensitivity.
It’s not afraid to explore some darker subject material, although we felt this could have been considered for longer. There are some difficult scenes depicting domestic violence, which land effectively but feel a little rushed – we’d have appreciated a few moments to let the gravity of what we’d just seen sink in before moving on to another scene. We appreciated the occasional snapshots into other characters’ inner turmoil – there’s nothing safe about this production, it’s not afraid to show personal difficulties in private moments and it’s all the better for it.
We enjoyed our evening with East is East – this is a smart revival of the classic culture clash comedy. It’s amazing, if saddening, to witness how little has changed with attitudes to race since the show debuted, and this show brings politics front and centre with some witty, astute observations. Throw in some impressive, endearing acting performances and what we have here is a thoroughly enjoyable evening at the theatre – well worth a visit.
GAY TIMES gives East is East – 4/5
More information can be found here.