Fine performances, dismal play - East Is East at Chichester Festival Theatre

REVIEW: East Is East, Chichester Festival Theatre, November 3-6.

Wednesday, 3rd November 2021, 11:02 pm
Updated Wednesday, 3rd November 2021, 11:04 pm
East Is East
East Is East

Birmingham Rep and National Theatre have revived East Is East by Ayub Khan Din to mark the play’s 25th anniversary.

Simply to have acknowledged the play and quietly moved on might have been kinder.

It’s played with skill; it has its moments; but ultimately nothing about the show convinces that this was a piece particularly worth selecting from the vast pool of challenging, thought-provoking, amusing dramas which we might have been watching tonight.

Indeed, there are scenes which – far from being revived – really ought to have had “do not resuscitate” scrawled all over them, particularly a first-half discussion of suicide, played for laughs, which really oughtn’t to have a place on any stage anywhere at any time.

In a sense, the play is sunk from that moment – even without its depiction of domestic violence and even without its portrayal of the youngest son of the house, a poor lad clearly in the grip of all sorts of obsessional mental-health problems. Again, he’s played for laughs – laughs which really, really aren’t funny.

Presumably the justification is that this is a depiction of certain attitudes at a certain moment in history. If so, can we expect Love Thy Neighbour and On The Buses to be coming soon?

In the end, it’s all rather dismal – which is a shame given there are a couple of fine performances.

Tony Jayawardena is excellent as the father of the Pakistani family we are watching in 1970s Salford – a man incapable of living by anything other than the rules of the India he left 40 years before, a man incapable of accepting that those rules inevitably will have very little meaning for his children who have never lived there.

Jayawardena convincingly creates a monster, a man out of time and out of place and whose ultimate resort is violence. It is a powerful portrayal.

Opposite him, Sophie Stanton as his long-suffering British wife Ella, manages to evoke a certain poignancy when she finally stands up to him.

But quite why we are watching this is difficult to say – a family more concerned with removing its youngest son’s foreskin than they are with the suffering he endures. It’s a strange play that presents a child refusing to leave his smelly coat as somehow funny.

There’s too much that’s not remotely likeable about the play – a period piece about an era 20 years before which offers little to edify and little to amuse.