Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Ayub Khan Din’s culture clash classic East is East is as relevant as ever

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Iqbal Khan’s staging is dynamic and hilarious

Now a quarter of a century old, Ayub Khan Din’s cheeky, energetic family drama about cultural conflict, identity and assimilation is gloriously revived, co-produced by Birmingham Rep, the theater where it was first launched.

Iqbal Khan’s production is electrifyingly dynamic and incredibly funny. It only falters occasionally when the tone darkens: Khan Din’s description of a household full of love, resentment, confusion and conflict does not shy away from the topic of domestic violence, and here the transitions are not decisive enough, the shock waves from Sudden Violence splash too quickly and subsides too quickly.

Otherwise the piece is a complete success, its politics – as topical as ever – presented with salty wit and the performances crammed with details.

It’s 1971 and we’re home with the Khans in Salford. Patriarch George (Tony Jayawardena) – Genghis for his mutinous children – still has a foot and a large part of his heart in Pakistan, where the civil war that will bring Bangladesh is imminent.

He owns a local fish and chip shop and is married to the white Ella (Sophie Stanton). Of their seven children, one – to Papa’s horror, a “pansy barber” – was cast out.

The others – five brothers and a sister – avoid George’s tyranny and traditionalism and pursue an elusive sense of belonging.

“Nobody here thinks that we are English,” sums up Maneer (nickname Gandhi, played by Joeravar Sangha), the only devout Muslim among them, frustrated. “We are the P *** family that runs the Chippy.”

The youngest – Noah Manzoor’s watchful, withdrawn 12-year-old Sajit (sometimes an authorial self-portrait) – rushes through the action in his filthy parka up to his chin and holds a camera tightly by director Khan. on which he often clicks away unnoticed.

Bretta Gerecke’s design splatters the stage with images that resemble his snapshots, memories from a child’s perspective: bright brown and orange wallpaper, lashing rain on cobblestones, patterned prayer rugs. Ugly period furniture slides in and out as we change locations.

Rites of passage – circumcision, arranged marriage – provide the focal points of the plot, but essentially this is a richly structured piece of life.

The siblings exchanged insults and familiarities and secretly feasted on bacon and sausages in a rebellious manner; Ella and her funeral friend Annie (Rachel Lumberg) exchange gruesome gossip over endless tea and biscuits; Sajit watched in mute horror from doorways as his parents quarreled, the fur of his hood lit up in a glowing corona; George collapsed privately, slumped over the chip shop counter in shuddering despair.

There’s nothing adjusted or soft about it, and that’s all the better for that. Sharp-eyed, compassionate, and richly rewarding.

Until October 30th (020 3989 5455)

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