From the first glimpse of the set, Salford’s grimy Coronation Street terraces with their outside lavs and no bathrooms, you know that East Is East is stuck in a bit of a time warp.
We’re back when racism was rife and mixed marriages still the subject of cruel gossip.
Ayub Khan Din’s award-winning stage play, that mixes social commentary with comedy, is back on a UK tour and this week it has pitched up at The Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury, a generally genteel town that is as far removed as it’s possible to get from the ginnels and cobbles of 1970s working class Manchester.
With the progress of time and, we hope, an improvement in attitudes, East Is East now comes across as a bit of a museum piece.
It’s still funny, though not as funny, or relevant, as when it was first performed in the 1990s, and you’ve got to ask whether it is still as important a piece as when it was first written.
As a snapshot of life in 1971 Salford it is, perhaps an eye-opener to how cultures, religions and countries clashed in their attempt to integrate.
We’re still going through the same problems with new cultures and new immigration issues so, maybe, the problems of chip-shop owner, George Khan, aren’t so irrelevant after all.
George left Pakistan as a young man, leaving behind his first wife and family, to make a new life in England. He married a white girl, Ella, and proceeded to sire six sons and a daughter.
But now George is desperately trying to hold on to his cultural identity and his dignity and respect, in the face of a backlash from his westernised children.
While war rages in his homeland skirmishes are breaking out in his own home. One son has already rebelled and left home to become a hairdresser, another is secretly taking a college art course while two more sons are resisting George’s attempts to marry them off to two nice Pakistani girls.
The youngest, Sajit (Adam Karim), has a nasty twitch, hides in the coal cellar and won’t take off his Parka.
And caught in the crossfire between George, who demands obedience, and his increasingly independent kids, is Ella who, despite suffering from an occasional violent outburst from her husband, loves him deeply.
Simon Nagra is bloody good at playing the noble patriarch. We see him trying to put on a strong face and laying down the law with his family, but alone he cries as he struggles to stay in control.
Pauline McLynn delivers a strong performance as Ella who chain smokes and frets, as any mother would, while trying to act as mediator in an increasingly fraught family dynamic.
And the boys – Assad Zaman as the arty Saleem; Dharmesh Patel and Ashley Kumar as the rebellious Abdul and Tariq plus Darren Kuppan, as the devout Maneer plus Salma Hoque as the feisty Meenah – give great turns as a generation unable to find its own identity, being neither entirely Pakistani, Muslim or English.
East Is East runs at the Waterside until Saturday.
Ayub Khan Din’s East Is East, a story about cultural identity, has lost some of its edge since its first outing a decade ago, but there is still plenty to make you smile and ponder.