REVIEW: Sparkling East Is East more relevant than ever

Pauline McLynn in East Is East at York Grand Opera House until August 8.
Pauline McLynn in East Is East at York Grand Opera House until August 8.
  • East Is East
  • York Grand Opera House
  • Until Saturday August 8

When writer Ayub Khan Din first penned East v West drama East Is East back in 1996, the world was a very different place to the one we know today.

The September 11 attacks had still to happen with the story’s arrival as a successful blockbuster film three years later and the likes of Islamic State and Osama Bin Laden had not featured on the public radar.

So this touring production showing the tensions and struggles of a Muslim family growing up in Salford in 1971 is perhaps more relevant than ever in today’s world of global tensions.

The latest stopping off-point was York’s Grand Opera House and we were transported back to the shabby, grimy back streets with a ‘Coronation Street’ style set capturing the era perfectly.

Set in two very distinct acts, the first part is very much played for laughs while the second act takes a much darker turn, focusing on issues of race, religion and domestic violence.

Fish and chip shop owner George Khan (Simon Nagra) is a domineering strict Muslim, upholding traditional family values and ruling his family with a rod of iron.

But English wife Ella (Pauline McLynn of Father Ted and EastEnders fame) and their six children are increasingly rebelling against the restrictions and expectations put in place.

Nagra switches perfectly from a bumbling comic Asian stereotype in the first act to a more sinister wife-beater in the second, while McLynn positively sparkles with energy as the strong-willed and feisty wife - although every time she picks up a tea cup its hard not to recall her as Mrs Doyle in the Irish sitcom classic!

The pair interact brilliantly as we see the anger and arguments within their living room, set alongside growing tensions between India and Pakistan as the two sides go to war.

The children are all portayed marvellously too, each bringing a different slant to the ongoing and unfolding events as two of the brothers are shunted towards arranged marriages they really don’t want.

Mention too to Sally Bankes as Auntie Annie, a family friend who shines fantastically during a gem of a comic scene between the two families.

East Is East sometimes makes for uncomfortable viewing as violence and bad language come to the fore.

But this is a truly remarkable piece of theatre and McLynn and Nagra delivered sterling performances in a gripping drama. A must see production.