Whether you’ve seen the film or not, you’ll definitely be familiar with East Is East, an iconic piece of British movie, and now theatrical history. I was lucky enough to see an early performance of this particular production at the Brighton Theatre Royal, ahead of the show coming to Bromley’s Churchill Theatre in July.
The set of East Is East is ingeniously used, perfectly representing the sense of claustrophobia and constant bustling that is found in the home of a large family. With a living room, dining room, and chip shop all being represented in the same few square feet, it takes the skill of the actors and production staff to really show the audience where the story is taking place. The cast themselves are responsible for any set changes and adjustments to the props, and these transitions are done with such choreographed precision that for a brief moment East Is East goes from gritty British comedy to almost contemporary dance.
Pauline McLynn (Father Ted, Eastenders, Shameless) plays the long suffering wife of George Khan played by Simon Nagra; her weary but loving voice carries us through the plot, and introduces us to the entire family. Ella Khan (McLynn) spends her life balancing her husband and children’s needs, her love driving her and on occasion leaving her in terrible, vulnerable situations. McLynn plays Ella with a strong, direct manner, although that never over rides her maternal instinct, and despite what he puts her through she insists on seeing the best in her husband George.
The young cast, some of whom are on their first theatrical tour, play a convincing group of brothers and sisters as they bundle on stage. Their individual characters shine through the dialogue and performance, far more so than in the film. Without meaning to, the audience begins to feel like they too are part of the Khan family. We know that George only ever wants half a cup of tea, and that nobody breathes a word about Saleem’s real passion, we become invested in their lives, even the most mundane aspects.
The first act really sets up the Khan family for us, we see their dynamic, the conflicts that any family encounters when living and working in close quarters and we begin to understand their individual personalities. The pace of the show really picks up in the second act, as the gritty side of the play becomes more obvious. Dealing with themes of domestic abuse alongside more typical family rows, East is East tackles things that affect families across the world, regardless of culture or location. A comedy at heart, East Is East takes the audience down some dark paths, and the actors all portray these scenes with the sensitivity and sincerity they demand, whilst other moments can seem farcical in comparison.
Above all things, East Is East is a tale of family; the good, the bad and the hilarious.