Review: East Is East, Grand Opera House

Funny and fiercely uncompromising – East Is East. Left to right: Sally Bankes (as Auntie Annie), Pauline McLynn (Ella Khan) and Darren Kuppan (Maneer Khan). Photograph: Marc Brenner
4 Aug 2015 @ 5.59 pm
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East Is East by Jamie Lloyd Productions / Trafalgar Transformed

Grand Opera House, York

Until Sat Aug 8 @ 7.30pm; Wed & Sat matinees @ 2.30pm

£11.90 – £36.90

Grand Opera House web page

Set in 1971, against the backdrop of a war between India and Pakistan over what would become Bangladesh, East Is East tells the story of the Khan family during a time of upheaval for many first generation immigrants.

Pakistani George Khan (played by Simon Nagra) is married to Ella, the white mother of his seven children, and lives in Salford, Greater Manchester.

Over the course of the play, we see the conflict between the ‘traditional’ George, wanting to arrange marriages and expecting his children to respect him because that is the way a ‘good Pakistani behaves’, and his rapidly growing mixed race children.

Funny and uncompromising

What follows is a funny, fierce and uncompromising story. We see George’s son Saleem attending college to be an engineer, or so his father thinks – the reality is that he is an art student.

We meet Maneer – who the others call ‘Ghandi’ due to his religious adherence – and the other children.

The excellent Pauline McLynn as Ella, the mother striving to keep the family together
The excellent Pauline McLynn as Ella, the mother striving to keep the family together

Pauline McLynn stars as the much put upon Ella Khan. She is the anchor who strives to hold the family together while also having to deal with the changing times of the early Seventies.

McLynn is excellent here. Of course, for people of my generation she will always be Mrs Doyle from Father Ted, and the constant cups of tea Ella makes don’t help me shake that off!

The Khan children all play their roles very well, but special mention has to go to Adam Karim as Sajit, the young boy who wears a Parka 24-seven, suffers with a twitch and also has to go through a circumcision!

Perfectly captures the period

By focusing the set design on the Khan family living room and the family chip shop, designer Tom Scutt beautifully sets the scene, allowing the action to flow and allowing for easy transitions.

Husband and wife George (Simon Nagra) and Ella Khan
Husband and wife George (Simon Nagra) and Ella Khan

Putting the two or three main sets within the framework of a backdrop which looks like the Coronation Street credits really roots you in the time and place of the piece.

What could be an awkward couple of hours in the whitest city in the world is helped by very clever writing, easing the tension and allowing us to laugh, without feeling racially insensitive.

The first half is a funny and formative experience, allowing for the pressure to build before things come to a head during the impressive denouement.

Anyone attending East Is East can look forward to some thought-provoking social commentary interspersed with some genuine heart and some real belly laughs. Well worth checking out!