East is East
Opera House, Manchester
This must be as authentic a production of the stage play as you’ll ever see, what with its Salford-born writer Ayub Khan Din in the central role, Lancashire actress Jane Horrocks as his wife, and all performed within shouting distance of the playwright’s home town.
It’s just a shame that it’s the yelling that robs this touring production of its necessary subtlety.
It’s not the first stage play, in the wide open space of the Opera House, that leaves some cast members only able to bellow their lines.
Or maybe director Sam Yates simply needs to rein in some of the younger performers? Either way it’s lost some of the crispness that made this revival a hit in London.
A shame because the play itself still reveals many more layers of drama than the subsequent cinema hit could manage.
There’s a clear case for Ayub Khan Din being given honorary membership of the Manchester School of playwrights for an intricately-detailed comedy drama about the lives of a mixed-race family in 1970s Salford.
In the same way the likes of Harold Brighouse and Stanley Houghton lifted a lid on domestic life in the early 1900s, East is East is equally revelatory about the tail end of the century. Indeed viewed nowadays it also illuminates the more contemporary crisis enveloping East and West.
As the Pakistani patriarch of the Khan family, Ayub Khan Din plays a man powerless to resist forces of change in his home life, or indeed his homeland – wracked by war. Issues of cultural identity, polygamy, arranged marriage and domestic abuse are deftly handled amid what is always a comedy at heart.
But the humour here is played too broad, the punchlines look parked rather than pitched, so when the narrative needs to get serious there seems to be insufficient space in which to manoeuvre.