REVIEW: East Is East, National Theatre at Home ✭✭✭✭✭

Last Updated on 4th January 2022

Paul T Davies reviews East Is East by Ayub Khan Din which is now streaming on the National Theatre at Home platform.

So, like a great deal of those of us, in England especially, I find myself in Covid jail after testing positive for the virus. Thankfully, due to jabs, symptoms are mild, and I finally accept that I can do no more than stay in the house and watch streaming theatre. With this in mind, a subscription to National Theatre At Home has given me access to their unique and brilliant archive. So, here’s my review of some of their streaming productions starting with East is East..

East Is East

East Is East
A Co-Production with Birmingham Repertory Theatre
National Theatre at Home
5 Stars

Top of your list should be this co-production between the National Theatre and Birmingham Repertory Theatre to mark the 25th anniversary of Ayub Khan Din’s now classic play. It’s an excellent production, and Iqbal Khan’s direction throws new light onto the text, aided by an outstanding production design by Bretta Gerecke that reflects the times, 1971, both at home and the horrific events surrounding partition.

East Is East online
Amy Leigh Hickman, Gurjeet Singh, Joeravar Sangha, Adonis Jenieco in East Is East. Photo: Pamela Raith

It’s set in Salford, and George Khan wants to raise his children in the traditional Pakistani way, but the real culture club in this play is between him and his children! His English wife, Ella, constantly tries to keep the peace and is torn between loyalty to her husband and ensuring the happiness of her children. It’s brought to vivid, wildly entertaining, life by an outstanding cast. As George, Tony Jayawardena has a difficult job to do, especially when we see George beat his wife and children. But his performance is so nuanced he also creates empathy for a man bound too fast to his own destructive traditions, and there are many convincing moments of tenderness within his rage and lack of understanding.

Sophie Stanton is outstanding as Ella, driven by love, a portrait of a fiercely strong woman who is a lioness when she needs to be. Our way into the family is through youngest son Sajit, a beautiful performance by Noah Manzoor, a young lad who hasn’t taken his paras off for a year, takes photographs of his environment, and clearly has special educational needs. His tics show his distress at his dysfunctional family, his coat is his suit of armour against all they, and life, throw at him.

East Is East review
Sophie Stanton and Tony Jayawardena in East is East. Photo: Pamela Raith

I adored the gossip between Ella and Auntie Annie, (excellent Rachel Lumberg), especially when they lament how much more difficult suicide has become to achieve thanks to the pills being less powerful- despite the melancholic aspects to this, their reporting of it is hilarious. Whilst the other children, character-wise, are possibly less fleshed out, they bring superb humour, and the play climaxes with a visit from Mr Khan, who plans to marry his daughters to George’s sons. Slapstick is woven seamlessly into the scene, involving an intimate work of art!

The beauty of Din’s script is the way you laugh one moment, and that laugh is checked as he skillfully turns the emotional content of the play on a sixpence. It’s a true classic.

For details of subscriptions, visit the National Theatre at Home website


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