October 4 2014
Three actors – one of whom – wrote ‘East is East’ talk about the challenges and the issues it deals with as the play makes a return to the London theatre…
AYUB KHAN DIN, the writer behind the hugely successful play and film, “East is East” thinks the issues it raises are as pertinent today as they were when he first wrote it in 1982.
He believes the Asian community must be prepared to examine itself more critically and accept that it cannot impose the lifestyle and mores of one culture against a prevailing or existing one.
Speaking to www.asianculturevulture.com, ahead of the return of the play from today (October 4) at the Trafaglar Studio Theatres in London’s West End theatre district, Din (pictured above) said: “It’s not just the Pakistani community – there are elements of British Asian communities who don’t want to be part of British society.
“You can’t dictate to your children what their culture is going to be or how they are going to be influenced – you lost that right when you moved from the country of your origin – you can’t recreate the world you left behind.”
Din first wrote “East is East” in 1982, while as an actor and there was a long gap between him penning his largely autobiographical comic tour de force and it being staged by Tamasha theatre company in 1996. It also enjoyed huge commercial success as a film (1999) and showed that work had univeral themes and resonated with a global audience.
In the current production, Din will return to the stage as an actor and reprise the role of the father – George Khan – played so memorably in the film by Om Puri.
Both the play and the film deal essentially with George Khan’s children as a battleground.
George wants them to be discernibly Pakistani and Muslim, while they feel increasingly British, are less religious in the main and can find little accommodation with their father and his unsparing ways.
Their mother and George’s wife, Ella (played by Jane Horrocks, pictured above) finds a sense of balance for the children between their Pakistani heritage and Salford existence increasingly difficult to manage and is subjected to domestic abuse by her husband.
Din explained: “What it (the play) highlights is that we are still facing those problems and if we continue to evade those problems, there will still be disenfranchised young men who consider the country of their birth an enemy.”
He feels some elements of the community still find it hard to accept that they live in a country with different values and mores and that these cannot be resisted blindly – much of the best comedy in the work is driven by that.
Din added: “I think we are getting to the point where the British Asian community are confident within themselves to be able to look at multiculturalism and see the positives of it; and also to highlight the negatives of multiculturalism – which allows certain elements of the community to excuse themselves from taking part in a society in which they have made a decision to bring their children up.”
His original impetus to write “East is East” came from a frustration as an actor (“Sammy and Rosie Get Laid“, “Coronation Street” – and he wishes more would take up the pen, like he did.
“I’d really become jaded as an actor with the kind of roles that were being offered to me – they were clichéd character roles and I was bored with it all.
He said he encourages actors to write – many complain of a lack of roles or feel typecast in stereotypical parts and feel there is not enough colour-blind casting.
“Try writing yourself,” Din tells them. “But they say: ‘Errggh I don’t know’, but I didn’t.
“You don’t, until you actually try – in many ways actors are the best people to sit down and write a play because they’re working on scripts all the time and they usually know what good dialogue is – and what a good scene is and what a bad play is – and if some of them try, they will probably prove themselves to be very good writers.”
He is looking forward to returning to the stage after a long absence in British theatres – but he performed in his own work, a musical, “Bunty Burman Presents” in New York last year, stepping in for the main lead.
“I’d never done a musical (as an actor),” he said. “It involved singing on stage, so when this opportunity came up I thought it was the perfect time to do this and threw my hat in the ring and they went for it.”
Din is currently writing another comedy play set in a factory that makes ready meal curries for the supermarkets, and is about “multiculturalism and curry” he told us.
Amit Shah, plays the role of Abdul, the Khan’s second son.
His appearance in “East is East” is a very personally satisfying one – he remembers watching the film, when he was at university studying drama and contemplating his future.
“It was at a point where I was not feeling confident. I didn’t think there was much of a future (as an actor) but then I saw Om Puri and I was just blown away and it really inspired me to keep going and it was just such a wonderful story,” he told www.asianculturevulture.com
He’s been an actor for 11 years now and after landing a part in “Bombay Dreams” on graduating has never looked back.
Somewhat poignantly, he actually features alongside Puri, his acting inspiration, in the Hollywood film, “The Hundred Foot Journey” (HFJ), released only last month.
“It was such an honour to work with him as it is with Ayub and Jane Horrocks. It’s a weird connection – I play Puri’s son in the ‘HFJ’ and Ayub is my father in this.
“You go into work mode and treat it as a professional but there’s a little boy inside of you thinking: Oh my Goodness, I am working with the playwright who inspired me all those years back and the actor who inspired me’…”
For West End debutant Ashley Kumar, playing one of the central characters, Tariq is a huge thrill.
He too remembers the film and the impact it made on him. You may have seen him in “Eastenders” when he played the character Todd Taylor for around 20 episodes.
“East is East (the film) made such a massive impact on me and it felt like it was written for me at the time, which is what great writing can do,” he told www.asianculturevulture.com
“By that time (about 16/17 years of age), I’d decided I wanted to be an actor and was watching many things and thinking there was nothing for me to be in – when I saw this, it was like, there is something, it inspired me.”
He shares some very personal connections to the play – his Indian father studied at the university in Salford, where the play (and film) is set and married a white woman.
“They faced a lot of prejudice from both sides, but nowadays we are much more accepting and the landscape of multiculturalism is different from how it was then.”
He’s also excited about “East is East” coming to a younger generation and an audience that may have little to no experience of theatre.
The play is being produced by Trafalgar Transformed (TT), a pioneering outfit that aims to bring the experience of theatre and the West End closer to young people and communities not familiar with the environment. It does this by offering special discounted tickets at targeted groups and the Trafalgar Studios where it is being staged is smaller and more intimate than many similar venues in the West End.
Kumar added: “It’s thrilling to be with Trafalgar – there is a stigma about going to theatre, like it is only for certain people. There are people within my own family, who feel this is not for me, ‘I am not smart enough to understand’, but the theatre is for everybody, just like film is, so I think what TT is doing is remarkable, extending theatre and making it an entertainment medium for everyone.”
‘East is East’ – (Trafalgar Transformed Season 2, production 2) October 4 – January 3 2015
Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, Westminster, SW1A 2DY
Performances: Monday – Saturday at 7.30pm, Thursday & Saturday at 2.30pm
Ticket prices: £15 – £52.50
Premium Seats Available
All tickets will be £15 on Mondays. Half of these will be made available through a special outreach scheme, targeted towards schools and first-time theatregoers. The other half will be released monthly to the public on the first day of each month, starting on1 October 2014, and will be available online or at Trafalgar Studios box office.
Box Office: 0844 871 7632