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REVIEW: East Is East at Newcastle Northern Stage

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Fabulous Family Tale

Newcastle Northern Stage
Until Saturday 13th May 2017

By Ayub Khan-Din
Directed by Suba Das

Photo: Pamela Raith
We loved the 1999 film at the cinema and we’ve watched it many times on television so we had high hopes for the Northern Stage drama. The tale about a couple that try to run a fish and chip shop in 1971 whilst raising 7 kids and keeping loyal to their beliefs and values still resonates today. How would the Northern Stage and Nottingham Playhouse co-production compare with the much loved film?

Photo: Pamela Raith
In the opening scene Coronation Street’s Vicky Entwistle plays wife Ellan Khan who is sat in the living room, discussing life with Auntie Annie (Judy Flynn).  Ellan’s seventh child Sajit (Viraj Junejo) is wearing the parka coat that he refuses to take off in bed and he is bouncing around on his bright orange space hopper. George Khan (Kammy Darweish) soon arrives, angry that Sajit has shown him up at the mosque as he has not been circumcised. Ellan soon promises to contact the doctor (Rez Kabir) and to get the problem solved.

Photo: Pamela Raith
The set, designed by Grace Smart, is able to rotate and soon shows husband, of 25 years, George’s fish and chip shop. He employs his large family to do the chores such as peeling potatoes. Tariq (Omar Malik) is strong and rebellious - pushing against the order that his father tries to maintain. Saleem (Raj Bajaj) is at college but he is actually doing an art foundation course rather than the engineering that he tells his father he is doing. Maneer (Dven Modha) follows his father’s teaching and is the only sibling that is interested in the Muslim religion. The eldest son living with the family in Salford is Abdul (Simon Rivers).

Photo: Pamela Raith
In addition to 6 sons there is one daughter, the playful Meenah (Sabrina Sandhu) whose skirt length is too short for her father’s liking but her mother points out that it is a part of the school uniform.

Photo: Pamela Raith
Of course East Is East was an Olivier Award winning play by Ayub Khan-Din before the tale hit the big screen.  Please indulge me as I make comparisons. The play is warmer - the central couple are seen to be a warm loving couple too - not just a pair of warring factions. The jokes are as sharp and it doesn’t rely on the violence to cause the shocks.  There is much more about the conflict between East and West Pakistan that is on the news which helps draw comparison between family and international strife.

Photo: Pamela Raith
Mention is also made of an eldest son, Nazir, living in Eccles. George mentions that, in his eyes, he is dead but unlike the film, we never seem Nazir, nor is it properly explained why he is not in the picture any more.

Photo: Pamela Raith
The script is witty and smart. There are plenty of funny moments scattered throughout the script. There is also plenty to make you think. The play is supposed to be set in 1971 and the family face a number of issues with race, tradition and acceptance. These run in addition to the normal pressures of family life. I say supposed to be 1971: some of the musical choices seem to be slightly later and, unless the action all takes place in the first 6 weeks of the year, money had been decimalised by this point.  Saleem asked for money for his art project in old money. The anachronisms don’t spoil what is a fun evening at the theatre.

There is swearing, smoking and some violence but it felt less so than the film and it was all in keeping with the story.

The set design, along with lighting by Prema Mehta and sound from Christopher Bartholomew, is both clever and effective. The audience laughed when they saw Sajit on top of the house.

The action is well paced throughout the show. Director Suba Dos gets a great response from the talented cast.

East Is East is an entertaining and well performed show that tackles the complex issues of one particular family. Everyone probably thinks their family is weird and this is certainly the case for the Khan’s. It’s a great show and well worth checking out.

Review by Stephen Oliver.


TUE 18 APR - SAT 13 MAY, 7.30pm
SAT 29 APR, WED 3, SAT 6, WED 10 and SAT 13 MAY, 2pm
Straight from work performance TUE 2
MAY, 6pm

Tue - Fri eves & Sat Matinees: £25 | £20.50 | £15.50
Sat eves £26 | £20.50 | £15.50
Students & Under 21s £13

Post show discussion: Tue 2 May

Running time: Approx 2 hours 30 mins (including interval)

Recommended Age: 14+
For more information or to book tickets visit  or call 0191 230 5151. 

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