Interview: Assad Zaman – East Is East

There’s a brand new tour of East Is East, a play based on the acclaimed movie written by Ayub Khan-Din, making its way across the UK this summer. The show was launched in Brighton last week before coming to The Churchill Theatre, Bromley in July and I was lucky enough to sit down with the cast of the production after their matinee performance, to hear about their experiences so far on East Is East. You can read my full review of the show here.

When talking to any members of the cast it is clear they all have one important thing in common; a huge sense of pride that they are part of this Trafalgar Transformed production. Speaking with Assad Zaman, who plays the artistic Saleem, he is thrilled to be on his first touring production with East Is East. A “right of passage” as Assad says, for young Asian actors.

That Emily, ThatEmily, Theatre, Theater, LDNTheatreBloggers, The Churchill, ATG, East Is East, assad-zaman-saleem-salma-hoque-meenah-ashley-kumar-tariq-adam-karim-sajit-darren-kuppan maneer east is east uk tour photo by marc brenner
Assad Zaman (Saleem), Salma Hoque (Meenah), Ashley Kumar (Tariq), Adam Karim (Sajit) & Darren Kuppan (Maneer)
Photo by Marc Brenner

I asked Assad what drew him to the part of Saleem, and East Is East in general, “there’s something so rich about all the characters” he replied,  “They’re not just Asian or mixed race lads. It’s so funny and so entertaining, but also so dark and gritty.” It’s true, the characters in Ayub Khan Din’s play are all more developed than in the film, and we begin to identify the particular traits of each of the siblings rather than a singular identifier. Saleem is not simply just the artistic brother, as Assad explains, “Yes, he’s the arty brother but he’s also the one who’s distanced himself from the family and gone outwards and educated himself.  He’s very particular about his art and he’s almost more worldly than the rest of the brothers, I think.”

So how would a young actor develop a role such as Saleem, and how much of yourself goes into a character like that? “He’s the arty brother”, offers Assad, going on to explain, “That’s how I am as well, in real life, and it’s funny because he’s very similar to my upbringing as well. I’m one of five, I’m the oldest. I decided to become an actor when everyone else in my family and my extended family were doing very academic subjects being lawyers and doctors. I was going to do law and halfway through my college life I had an epiphany and thought actually I don’t want to do this and I decided to become an actor. In some ways I’m very close to Saleem and I find it very easy to tap into him, which is why I have so much fun playing him. I’m very comfortable in his skin.”

Assad obviously feels a connection to Saleem, and to the rest of the cast, “it’s cheesy, but it’s like family”. This comes across so clearly on stage, as the siblings of the Khan family work together and play off each other so well you barely even consider the fact they’re not actually related. This is developed in the very stylised set and props moves that occur throughout the play, and Assad explained to me that, “Everything had to tell a story, he [the director, Sam Yates] didn’t want any moment to be a meaningless moment. He didn’t really want stage managers on stage to move the set, we all did it as a family.”

Hearing Assad talk with such enthusiasm about East Is East made me want to see the show again, even having just left the matinee performance! I’ll be posting another interview later this week with Salma Hoque and Darren Kuppan who play Meenah and Maneer respectively in East Is East.

East Is East will be performed at The Churchill Theatre, Bromley from the 6th July 2015.

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