That ‘70s show…
It’s the 1970s – but it could be any time, because cultural conflict, even (especially) at domestic level is timeless. It’s a chip shop in Birmingham (any city) where the Khans’ business is a popular local landmark. But while Mr. Khan is a Pakistani Muslim, his wife is an Irish Catholic, and their seven children are all dealing with simply being British in a modern urban environment.
It’s not that father Zaheed (George) isn’t good at his paternal role, it’s just that so far as he’s concerned this involves arranging suitable marriages for his kids – even eldest son Nigel (Nazir) who he hasn’t noticed is most decidedly gay.
While the culture of the East versus West Pakistan hostilities (not to mention parkas and space hoppers) might seem very period-specific, the themes of Ayud Khan-Din’s 1996 play (and the hugely successful and beloved film version of 1999) remain universal. Antagonism between generations, within marriage, even from one set of neighbours to another, is a fact of life. You deal with it via affection, humour, family solidarity – and sometimes downright violence because your expectations have been stretched beyond breaking point.
Now local director Suba Das and Northern Stage are offering us a fresh airing of what has become a classic text, a key document in bringing Asian culture to mainstream British audiences.
This isn’t a tub-thumping piece of propaganda, but a closely-observed (and often hilarious) account of everyday anxiety, annoyance and general getting on with life. Warm and humane, it needs a cast capable of conveying a down-to-earth honesty flourishing under exceptional circumstances.
So where else would you look but to TV mega-classic soap Coronation Street? Yes, Corrie’s Vicky Entwhistle plays matriarch Ella, long-suffering wife, mother and fierce defender of her own corner. No-one gets it all their own way, everyone struggles to be heard, but this hugely enjoyable play should resonate with anyone, anywhere, who has ever been part of a believably imperfect family circle.East is East, Tuesday 18 April-Saturday 13 May, Northern Stage, Newcastle, various times, £15.50-£25 (students and under 21s £13). northernstage.co.uk