Ayub Khan-Din’s hit play, East is East, is back in Birmingham’s Repertory Theatre—the very place it premiered 25 years ago. The atmosphere inside the theatre is one of pure excitement. To have the production back in its home theatre after so long brings in an electric and diverse audience.
This landmark celebration is as popular today as it was when it first opened, and it’s clear to see why. Khan-Din’s play opens a window into the lives of a Pakistani-British family and their efforts to navigate family life and the changing cultural allegiances of their seven children.
Iqbal Khan succeeds in keeping the play fresh and relevant to new audiences. Plays about tradition aren’t easy to update for that reason, and Khan does a fantastic job of revealing cultural struggles and differences subtly.
East is East is ultimately a play about family and culture. In the 1970s, George Khan sets about arranging marriages for his children, to the chagrin of his British Catholic wife, Ella. His children, who reject their father’s Pakistani Muslim heritage in favour of British fashions and life, also push against him. Both father and children have their worldviews challenged.
What is particularly great about Khan-Din’s script, though, is that neither culture is dismissed. Too often in ‘arranged marriage’ narratives, this practice is written off as overly conservative and to be overcome. While George’s children reject some of his ideas, his beliefs are just as valid at the beginning of the play as at the end.
Khan-Din’s characters drive the play. It makes sense, then, that the brilliant cast makes this experience what it is.
Casting for this production was no easy feat. Following in the steps of a perfectly-cast original run and 1999 film, casting director Stuart Burt nails it with talented actors that really gel together.
Tony Jayawardena is fantastic as George Khan. It’s a difficult but rewarding part and Jayawardena brings a huge amount of energy to the role. The amount of emotion that goes into being a disappointed family man shows Jayawardena’s range as an actor and cements his place as the star of the play.
Gurjeet Singh and Sophie Stanton also shine as Tariq and Ella Khan. Both of these roles play a pivotal part in transforming the family. Stanton works off of Jayawardena’s acting and creates a great dynamic between husband and wife. Tariq’s rebellion against his father sparks George’s questioning of his beliefs, and Singh captures their fraught relationship perfectly.
Returning to theatre after so long is a strange thing. This is the first play I have seen for nearly two years, and I’m so glad that it was this one. I hope to be able to see this play again one day!
Words by Charlotte Goodger
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