Clash of the cultures

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George and Ella Khan. Ayub Khan Din and Jane Horrocks, surrounded by their family

East is East

New Alexandra Theatre


GEORGE Khan is a man losing control. His was a generation and a culture of patriarchy. His word is law as his father’s word had been law before him and  his father before him.

The was the way it was and always had been, the father making the decisions on everything for everyone in the family which might have worked in George’s rural Pakistan homeland but in the back streets of 1971 Salford, with an English wife and running a family chippy his grip was being loosened day by day.

George is played by Salford born Ayub Khan Din who wrote the original 1997 Royal Court play and subsequent film and gives a lovely portrayal of a man who is self opinionated, obsessed with tradition and his own interpretation of both Islam and the Pakistan way, even if it is the Pakistan, or India as it was then, he left 36 years ago; he is also a man who is losing his grip.

There is a parallel with events in George’s homeland where West Pakistan is turning to violence in an attempt to subdue rebellious East Pakistan, which is soon to breakaway to become an independent Bangladesh. It is a situation George is following avidly on TV and radio and just as West Pakistan’s perceived authority is being challenged George’s own is being questioned aella and anniend, like Pakistan, he turns to violence to maintain control, in George’s case, first upon first his wife, Ella, then his children.

Ella, played exquisitely by Jane Horrocks, goes as far as she dares to protect her children and to act as peacemaker and referee, but there is always the threat of violence as George defends what he sees as his right - unquestioning respect and obeyance by his family.

Ella and neighbour Auntie Annie, Sally Bankes

Which is not to say George is just a two dimensional bully and a tyrant, he is a family man at heart, it is just everyone is expected to comply with his view of family. He can also be very funny. Thirty six years in Salford, 25 years married to Ella, and he still commits grievous bodily harm on the English Language in every sentence, missus; and he has penchant for bargains (in his view) from the market, such as a barber’s chair he brings home – just the thing for a back street Salford terrace – which creates a scene of touching tenderness.

The rebellion against George had started when eldest son Nazir had run away rather than go through with an arranged wedding and gone into exile in Eccles. He was disowned by George but was seen as a beacon of freedom for some of his remaining six, westernised children.

There is second son Abdul, the thoughtful one, played by Amit Shah, who hardly questions George’s authority until he attacks his mother, and Tariq, played by Ashley Kumar, who, born in England, sees himself as English.

They are the next two George will be attempting to enter into arranged marriages.

Maneer, played by Darren Kuppan, is perhaps the least Westernised of the bunch, while daughter Meenah, played beautifully on Press night by understudy Deepal Parmar, hates even wearing a sari.

Then there is Saleem, played by Nathan Clarke, who George thinks is at college studying engineering, which could get him a fine house and a fine job in Pakistan, according to george and ellaGeorge . . . except he is really studying art.

Finally we have Sajit, played by Michael Karim, who suffers a physical problem, an omission at birth which left him more intact that a good Muslim should be. Sajit has more problems than offending the Islamic view on male “tickle tackle” as George would have it. He has a parka which he wears day and night and is grubby enough to have developed its own wildlife. The Parka produces some wonderful laughs on its own.

George and Ella, married for 25 years and with a chip shop and seven children to their name

The parka, hood up, is Sajit’s refuge from the world which he finally removes to attack George in the final family confrontation.

Around the family we have Auntie Annie, a neighbour who seems to have her own supply line from Manchester docks. Annie played by Sally Bankes, pops in regularly, helps in the chippy and seems to be called on whenever anyone dies in the neighbourhood to take care of the laying out.

Then there is Rani Moorthy and Hassani Shapi as Mr and Mrs Shah, the socially climbing Pakistani couple  - they live in a semi-detached with TWO extensions in Trafford Park – who are on the hunt for two good Pakistani boys to marry their somewhat less than stunningly attractive daughters, a match made in . . . well likely confrontation in this case with Tariq set to run off to Eccles and even Abdul uneasy at his life being controlled even down to who he marries.

The play is set in 1971 and 44 years on its subject is still relevant as East and West still clash in authoritarian families of immigrant origin where tradition and perceived honour still rule.

What Khan Din has done is turn the culture clash into a comedy with bite. He was from an Anglo-Pakistani family, and states that Sajit is very much a self-portrait while George and Ella are based very much on his own parents, which could explain why the family are more than caricatures and we feel for them all, even the tyrannical George, battling to do his best for both his family and his way of life – not seeing the two are incompatible.

The set from Tom Scutt is simple and flexible to give the Khan household, chip shop, hospital and back yard with a few pushes heare and there and Richard Howell’s lighting although it can be confusing at times, Sajit rushing off to the coal shed stage right and being found in there stage left behind a door where George has been hanging his coat.

Sam Yates, the director has kept up a decent pace and doesn’t allow emotions to take over while full marks to fight director Kate Waters who gave us fights that looked real rather than bad rehearsals for Strictly.

It might be a thought provoking piece, a picture of working class immigrant life, but most of all it is entertaining and very funny. To 17-01-15

Roger Clarke


Chips with everything . . .


HAVING written this semi-autobiographic play about multi-cultural family issues, Ayub Khan Din might be expected to give a convincing performance in the lead role, and he does just that.

He plays 1970s Salford chip shop owner George Khan, married to his white English wife for 25 years, and struggling to cope with some of the views and attitudes of their six sons and a daughter brought up in this country, starkly contrasting with his own strict Pakistani-Muslim beliefs.

There are times when George – his kids call him Ghenghis when he’s not in earshot – appears tyrannical as he wrestles for control in their back-to-back home, and others when you sympathise with him in a story that mixes raw emotion with sparkling humour.

Nor does he get all his own way with his loyal wife Ella, beautifully played by TV and film actress Jane Horrocks who can fight her corner even after receiving one painful thump during a row, and his threats to bring his Pakistani wife over to England if she doesn’t toe the line never seem too genuine.

There’s a touch of Mrs Brown’s Boys about the action at times, with the family never economical with the use of dodgy language, including the f-word, which might surprise a few people. The build-up to the youngest son, Sajit (Michael Karim), needing to be circumcised also has a cringe factor!

But the play is more memorable for its humour, particularly in the second act when a comfortably off Pakistani couple arrive to discuss the proposed arranged marriage of their daughters to two of the Khans’ sons, and a piece of art work showing the naked front torso of a woman, turns up to create a bit of mayhem.

Sally Banks adds another dimension to the fun as the children’s white Auntie Annie.

Directed by Sam Yates, East is East runs to 17.01.15

Paul Marston


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