Review: Culture shift in 1970s Salford - East is East, Trafalgar Studios
It is purely coincidental, I am sure, that the last time I saw Jane Horrocks on stage there was some clever use of doors within the set and so it is with East is East in which she stars as Ella Khan.
The Khan family home in a Salford, a redbrick terrace, is represented outside in; a sofa, TV and dinner table are set within external redbrick walls complete with rough wooden back yard gates and coal cellar.
Rather than peer through the glass in the door to see who is coming, the Khan brood look through a crack in planks. The coal cellar doubles as a living room cupboard in which to hide incriminating art college equipment and a hiding spot for the youngest of the kids, the parker coat wearing Sajit. With a quick switch of sofa for shop counter the space doubles as their father's chip shop where all the family help out.
Written in 1997 by Ayub Khan-Din, who also plays head of the family George Khan, it is set in 1971 but its themes of cultural identity seem just as relevant today.
George travelled to the UK from Pakistan in 1939, married Ella and has seven children. He is determined to bring them up in the Pakistani way, where children are supposed to be respectful and obedient regardless.
It is an ideal that doesn't sit comfortably with all the Khan children born into white, western culture. The eldest son has already run away from a proposed arranged marriage with George refusing to acknowledge him for the slight on his authority. Tensions are mounting in the house as he is planning to marry off another two of his sons.
It is a dilemma. The Pakinstani culture is part of their identity, its part of the community they mix in and while living in a Western style has its advantages they aren't always accepted equally.
For their father he is wedded to the Pakinstani ways, and yet he married a white woman. He obviously loves Ella, it is subtle but it is there and in a way it is his journey which is the hardest as his children inevitably head on a different path to the one he would wish for them.
East is East is a lively, warm and very funny family drama about teenagers growing up and trying to live with two very different cultures. On the surface the Khan's are a normal family bickering, fighting and teasing but underneath the play muses on mixed-race identity in the UK. It is nearly two decades old as a play and its setting is more than four decades old but it feels as relevant today; a point which is hammered home by it having an audience that far more accurately reflected the cultural diversity of London for once.
East is East is a great piece of theatre and is on at the Trafalgar Studios until Jan 3. It's two hours including an interval.
The ever fabulous Jane Horrocks starred in Little Voice in which Jim Broadbent also appeared and he was in Cloud Atlas with Mr W and will soon see seen with him again in London Spy.