THEATRE: East Is East: Royal Court Upstairs, London

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The Independent Culture
All of a sudden, it's panic stations. The illicit sausages have to be wolfed down virtually whole and the tell-tale cigarette smoke wafted away by an art folder that will itself have to be prudently concealed. The young people who are put into this tizz in East Is East - a delightful new comedy by Ayub Khan-Din - are the offspring of George Khan, a Pakistani chip shop owner who is dogmatically Muslim (when it's in his interests), and his long-suffering English wife, Ella. He has another wife back in his native land and, though he hasn't seen her for a couple of decades, she still comes in handy as a threat during tiffs with spouse number two.

Since all seven Khans live on top of each other in a tiny Northern terrace, they have about as much personal privacy and room for manoeuvre as tinned sardines. So it's no wonder that the squabbling siblings should want to make the most of their freedom when mum and dad take 12-year-old Sajit (Imran Ali) to the hospital for a belated circumcision. What would a young adolescent male feel was appropriate recompense for this late, painful business of losing his foreskin? A Cadillac and (after an appropriate recovery period) an all-nighter with Sharon Stone would be somewhere near the mark. What George tries to bribe Sajit with is a special watch that tells you when to pray in Arabic. Which just adds insult to literal injury.

Sajit, whom you suspect is the author-when-young (the play is set in 1970), cannot be got out of his rancid-looking parka coat. He wears it round the clock, he eventually reveals, because it gives him the feeling of not being there in a house where father asserts his despotic rule by frequently felling mother to the hideously carpeted floor and kicking her in the stomach. Or by trying to marry off his sons to the highest bidder. There's a hilarious scene when the family is visited by a smug Pakistani father of girls who thinks he's God because he has a double extension in Trafford Park. George's greedy hopes of a dynastic alliance are sabotaged by some deftly dropped clangers from Ella's white friend Annie, whom Leslie Nichol plays with a wonderfully salt-and-vinegar Coronation Street wit.

The cast in Kristine Landon-Smith's immensely attractive production is headed by Linda Bassett, who captures everything about Ella perfectly, even down to the way some mothers of young men can't embrace their sons without instantly trying to wriggle out of this emotional gesture via an embarrassed, impatient slap. As George, Nadim Sawalha shows you - in the hints of an underlying fear in his own self-assertiveness - that he knows, deep down, he won't be able to get away with this behaviour for much longer. And the quirky, spirited portrayals of the younger Khans, who are apparently at sixes and sevens because of the different ways they have reacted to tyranny - from becoming an officiously punctilious Muslim to becoming a hippie art student - indicate that, for all of them, there is the same difficulty of not feeling at home either at home or in the outside world.

But though it deals responsibly and honestly with the painful problems of mixed-race families, the play's spirit is one of humerous resilience. Without being "feel good", it leaves you feeling really great.

To 7 December. Booking: 0171-565 5000