November 27 2014
Old cast meets new production and Tamasha artistic director Sudha Bhuchar and playwright Ayub Khan Din talk about the
play’s beginnings, its continuing relevance and what lies at the heart of it…
DESPITE it being nearly 20 years since “East is East” was first staged and more than 30 after it was first penned, the play remains as relevant today as it was then.
That’s certainly what its writer Ayub Khan Din believes and it is borne out – as the play continues to pack them in at Trafalgar Studios in London.
Khan penned his semi-autobiographical tale in 1982, while as a jobbing actor and looking to cast himself in the Tariq role – the cocky, good-looking one who gets all the girls.
It’s played by Ashley Kumar in the current production mounted by pioneering theatre initiative, Trafalgar Transformed (TT) and produced by Jamie Lloyd Productions and The Ambassadors Theatre Group. Among TT’s aims is to bring new audiences to the West End and its ticket price initiatives help to do that. See below for the latest offer, available only for 24 hours from December 1. (See below).
As it was, Din shelved his script before being asked by Sudha Bhuchar, Tamasha theatre co-director some 14 years later, to return to it in 1996 (when it was first staged).
It was the start of a remarkable journey for the play which was probably the first wholly inspired contemporary British Asian play ever to hit the West End. It showed in Birmingham and the Royal Court in October 1996 before going to the Theatre Royal Stratford East and then Duke of York’s in March/April 1997.
It then went onto become one of the most successful independent films (1999) ever released (with Din responsible for the screenplay), before its return to the stage and current incarnation in Trafalgar Transformed Season 2.
Last month, some of the key members of previous productions had a chance to see the latest revival with Din in the lead role of Dad Khan and Jane Horrocks playing his wife Ella, and reminisce.
Din and Bhuchar also spoke about the play’s genesis and longevity with Jamie Lloyd.
Bhuchar explained that the play was workshopped through her company Tamasha and the Birmingham Repertory Theatre and the Royal Court.
Originally Din and Bhuchar had known each other as actors working for one of the first Asian theatre companies ever formed in Britain, Tara Arts.
Bhuchar was developing new work for Tamasha and Din had submitted another play about Goa.
“I told him it wasn’t as good as ‘East is East’,” revealed Bhuchar.
Din said the attention lavished on his work in the programme with the Birmingham Rep and the Royal Court really inspired him.
“It was like when I was a young actor and reminded me of why I wanted to be in this business,” he said.
Din revealed that over the years he has come to understand where his real father had failed him and his siblings.
His father, an illiterate peasant from a village in the mountains of Kashmir, had left to travel to Bombay (now Mumbai) and had got himself on a merchant ship and then had made a life for himself in Salford.
It was an incredible journey and one filled with energy, ambition and drive and yet when it came to his own children he could not recognise that same spirit and impulse.
“It was an incredible feat for a village boy but he never recognised that spark in any of his own children and that’s where a lot of the problems came from,” felt Din.
He also said that his parents had a “fantastic relationship” in the beginning but as more relatives came to settle in Britain, his outlook changed under their scrutiny.
“The outside influences caused a problem,” revealed Din. “As more came they started criticising his lifestyle.”
That was when his father became more intransigent about the religious and cultural influences his children were exposed to, living in Britain.
“He didn’t have the right to dictate to us what our cultural influences should have been,” countered Din.
Lloyd asked him whether it was strange for him to be playing his own father. He said that he was the Sajid character who keeps his Parka on all the time – admitting he did sleep in it on occasions but did take it off to be washed (in contrast to the on
“I see things in my own head with my father and me being one of the kids – but it’s still a performance and a role and you’re telling a story,” explained Din.
Bhuchar said she recognised something about the play from early on and that once it got to the stage it had a momentum of its own.
Watching it again, she said it had been “emotional” and a trip down a selective memory lane.
“I’ve seen a couple of versions of it, and it’s different but the same,” she enthused.
She later told www.asianculturevulture.com: “I am delighted that we commissioned ‘East is East’ for Tamasha, and we were there at the beginning.
“It’s fantastic that this piece which is so deeply personal would connect with people widely, and am really happy to see that the play eighteen years later still resonates with audiences.”
On the evening, she said that Tamasha Developing Artist (TDA) programme has had a significant life of its own, producing new talent and new work and continuing to reflect and articulate creative diversity.
As an example she told the audience about “Snookered” a 2011 play about young Muslim men growing up in the North and written by taxi driver Ishy Din. It was critically acclaimed and Din has gone onto to write for television.
“Tamasha has been on an incredible journey and it’s fantastic to see our TDA creating a canon of work of which ‘East is East’ is a significant part,” she said.
She described the evening as a “celebration” and “a special evening”.
Gallery pictures from the evening, click anywhere over the picture… see here
Main picture at the top: (left to right) Mrs Shah (Rani Moorthy), Maneer (Darren Kuppan), Meenah (Taj Atwal), Tariq (Ashley Kumar), Abdul (Amit Shah) and Ella Khan (Jane Horrocks) in ‘East is East’, photo Marc Brenner; inset right bottom, Linda Bassett Ella Khan in both stage and film version, picture Ollie Ford
- Ticket and more information
‘East is East’ until January 3 2015 7.30pm, Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY
For more information: Traf Extras
All tickets to performances of East is East on Mondays 1st, 8th, 15th and 22nd December, will go on sale at just £15 from 10am on 1st December. Book online at ATG TICKETS or at the Theatre Box Office in person. Only available on a 24-hour window.