“I wouldn’t force it on anyone. I don’t think me dad should either”
That’s the impassioned plea for freedom from young Maneer as he struggles to shake off the shackles of being the traditional Pakistani man his father wants him to be and make his own choices in life.
Maneer (Darren Kuppan) is one of seven children born to George Khan (Ayub Khan Din) a Pakistani immigrant who settled in Salford and ended up marrying an Englishwoman named Ella (Jane Horrocks). The year is 1971 and the action centres around the Khan’s terraced house living room and the family run chip shop. Tom Scutt has perfectly captured the 70s feel and warmth in his set and costume design as we drift in and out of these two areas.
Not only is Ayub Khan Din central to the action of East is East, giving a powerful and commanding performance as the domineering Dad, but he is also the talented writer of the play which is loosely based on his own life growing up. Horrocks is on form as Ella, the over-worked wife and mother trying to keep the family together whilst her husband tries to dominate the children at every turn. Wheras in the hit 1999 film Ella is a rather minor character, onstage the role is built up so it gives Horrocks the chance to shine as she so often does.
The story pulls no punches with Khan Din showing the gritty Salford life through his impressive script, sprinkled with some colourful language which at times has you laughing out loud and at others gasping in shock.
A special mention must go to Taj Atwal who plays Khan’s rebellious teenage daughter, Meenah. Most recently seen onscreen in hit BBC drama In The Club Atwal excels in every scene she appears and displays that real cheeky teenage edge that the part requires. Her interaction and constant bickering with her siblings is a joy to behold and look out for one of the stand out scenes of the first half which features a Bollywood-esque dance routine in the chip shop where everything their father stands for is lovingly mocked before his abrupt entrance!
A nod must also go to busybody Auntie Annie (Sally Bankes) whose comic timing is second to none. Bankes makes a great sidekick to Horrocks and together they bring a semblance of order to proceedings with their ‘over the fence’ style chatter as mayhem ensues around them.
Director Sam Yates keeps the action flowing at quite a pace and ensures the script has both the power and intensity that the story dictates.
Overall, East is East is funny, moving and at times very thought provoking with many of the issues as relevant today as they were 45 years ago. The first half may be a little slow to get off the ground but it soon gathers pace after the interval. Watch out for a belly laughing scene as the Shahs come to visit in the hope of setting up an arranged marriage between their daughters and the Khan’s sons.
East is East runs until 31st January at Manchester’s Opera House.