Newcastle’s Northern Stage introduces a new production of East is East that utterly ruptures the boundaries of comedy and drama. Perhaps a physical description of the audience best describes the atmosphere the director, Suba Das, has managed to create. It’s impossible not to leave the theatre with a head light from laughing, but what’s striking is the simultaneous weight in your stomach from the disturbing scenes of shattered family life. This juxtaposition of emotions is not an easy one to create but is achieved due to the production being so intensely captivating and real.
East is East was not only an Olivier Award-winning comedy, but also a BAFTA-winning triumph. Northern Stage’s new production of the film is an energetic portrayal of the films beloved characters. Chip shop owner George, played by lively Kammy Darweish, struggles to implement the strict rules he has learned in his homeland Pakistan onto his family in Salford. As the children and his English wife Ella, delightfully portrayed by Vicky Entwistle, increasingly push his every button he begins to snap. Saiit’s refusal to take his stinking parka off as well as still having his ‘tickle-tackle’ are just some of the hilarious deviations from George’s idea of respectable behaviour. The change of scene is designed masterfully, with the set spinning back and forth from the vibrantly decorated 70’s living room to the family chip shop. This is completed with leaping around the stage by Saiit in his parka.
The bantering and scheming amongst the children creates much of the humour in the first half and all of the actors are tremendously suited to their part. Comic physical theatre is at its best as they each attempt to cover the smell of contraband bacon using curry powder. Sabrina Sandhu, playing Meenah, particularly shines in her role as the gobby teenager with the heart of gold through her priceless facial expressions. As the play sets off for its second half the seriousness of the family struggles becomes prominent. Domestic violence threatens to tear George from his loving family. He is forced to realise what he will lose if he carries on attempting to shape them into what they can never be in the rapidly changing world.
The climax of the production is shocking and overwhelming. Due to its insufficient resolution for a happy ending, the audience are left with an uneasiness. I’d go as far to say even a sense of guilt for their laughter in the first scenes of chaos. This unease is all part of the production’s success in portraying the reality of family life defined by contrasts.
East is East is showing until Saturday 13th May. It’s an incredible comedy of contradictions.
Image courtesy of the Northern Stage