East is East review, National Theatre: Fresher today than a quarter of a century ago

Revival of Ayub Khan Din’s landmark play is flawless staged for its 25th anniversary

Anya Ryan
Saturday 09 October 2021 10:13
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<p>Sophie Stanton and Tony Jayawardena in ‘East Is East'</p>

Sophie Stanton and Tony Jayawardena in ‘East Is East'

It’s been 25 years since the landmark play East is East was first staged at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Set in 1970s Salford, it sees the British Pakistani Khan family battle with their in-between identities and struggle to find their cultural place in the world. Revived for its anniversary in co-production with the National Theatre, it feels fresher today than it did a quarter of a century ago.

We meet the Khans in their Seventies-style living room, designed by Bretta Gerecke. Their fading home is decorated with retro patterned wallpaper, a tiny kingdom for patriarch George to govern. In a desperate attempt to keep his children connected to their Pakistani heritage, he rules that they must have arranged marriages and follow his demands with respect. “I’m their father, they will do as I say,” he roars.

Embodied by Tony Jayawardena with stage-commanding vigour, George jolts from comedic father figure to bullish and violent monster with ease. But despite his deep-rooted flaws, there is a tenderness to George that makes him loveable. His conversations with his English wife Ella, played stoically by Sophie Stanton, are filled with obvious fondness – the repeated response of “half a cup” to her offer of tea is a sweet insight into the habits of their 25-year marriage. It is in these moments of familial conversation where East is East is at its best.

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