East is East

Issue section: 

East is East is a priceless modern classic about the tensions among conflicting cultures in multiracial Britain.

Pakistani chip-shop owner George Khan (played by the author Ayub Khan Din) wants his children to remember and abide by their Pakistani roots.

He makes every effort to bring them up in a strict Muslim household, despite the fact that his family were born and raised in 1970s Salford.

George’s hopes of creating a traditional Pakistani family crumble as his loyal yet outspoken English wife, Ella (Jane Horrocks), cannot stand by his actions towards their children. She becomes conflicted between her role as a “good wife” and the desires of her children to run their own lives.

Compared to the George in the 1999 film version — which is how this coming of age story is primarily recognised — the father in director Sam Yates’s production shows far more vulnerability.

It is most obvious in moments of the play where he breaks down in tears. It almost seems like it’s out of nowhere, disrupting his usual stony demeanour.

The play highlights how George is a man caught between Pakistan and Britain. He is married to and adores a white woman of purely British heritage. But he still cannot accept his children adopting western ways, so subjects them to arranged marriages.

The production gives voice to the painful struggle to come to terms with identity for both generations and cultures.

The younger cast produce convincing performances embodying the close, passionate and explosive relationships between the children and their parents.

Their rebellious behaviour reminds us of the ways in which we challenge ideas that try to tell us where we “belong”.

The play’s content is still relevant when we look at the situation of British Muslims and the struggles they face in retaining a culture for which they are demonised.

George paints an unforgiving picture of what he thinks it is to be a good Muslim. But the contradictions in his values show that even he is confused by exactly what that means.