Review: East is East, Octagon Theatre

A brilliant turn from Jane Hazlegrove anchors this powerful revival of East is East at the Octagon Theatre in Bolton

“Funeral’s on Friday, they’re having salmon…”

On the one hand,  it is great to see another production of Ayub Khan Din’s evergreen East is East, as sharply observed and comically astute as ever in this production at Bolton’s Octagon Theatre. But on the other, it is a sad indictment that the British theatrical establishment hasn’t been able to conjure up a similarly successful play that looks at race and multiculturalism in the 20-odd years since it was written.

Nevertheless, director Ben Occhipinti gets his revival just right, capturing much of the mood of a 1970s Salford where Pakistani father George and English mother Ella are raising their seven children who are all dealing differently with the unique pressures that come with a mixed race heritage. And he has cast it beautifully – Kulvinder Ghir’s George full of irascible pride, Jane Hazlegrove’s Ella brilliantly, expertly moving in her (almost) infinite patience.

And twenty years down the line, it is interesting to see how our own perspectives have shifted on the play. Our sympathies are clearly guided to Ella, based on Khan Din’s own mother, as she tirelessly navigates the competing demands of her family. And as the depths of her love and tolerance clearly speak of a different time, they’re no less heartfelt, particularly in Hazlegrove’s nuanced performance.

But I found myself also moved, for the first time, by the overwhelming sense of what George has had to sacrifice, so often cast away as comic business as he fusses over foreskins and fried fish. His own cultural heritage that finds no purchase in his household, his religion in which he has no real companion. It’s a powerful reminder that a crucial and equal part of integration is total respect for our differences.

Amanda Stoodley’s design, with its iconic flooring, makes good use of the space. And there’s some cracking supporting turns from the likes of Claire Hackett’s hilarious Auntie Annie, Akshay Gulati’s headstrong Tariq and Shila Iqbal’s wonderfully confident Meenah. Worth catching. 

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Richard Davenport
East is East is booking at the Bolton Octagon Theatre until 14th April

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