As a semi-autobiographical look at the particular challenges faced by Pakistani immigrants and mixed-race children, living in whatmight be described as the less culturally sensitive Britain of the 1970s, Ayub Khan Din’s work can’t fail to be pertinent and fascinating. Not only to anyone who’s emigrated from a previously colonised country to the land of their colonisers, but equally, as it turns out, to anyone who’s ever been born into a family. Trafalgar Transformed aims to programme work which provokes debate on current issues amongst a diverse audience demographic. With its themes of multiculturalism, youth culture, family dysfunction, masculine identity and the place of religion in modern society, East is East couldn’t be more on the button.
The cast of Khan Teenagers steal the show with their energetic yet comfortable presence on stage, as does Sally Bankes with her bulls-eye delivery of Lancashire wit. Taj Atwal as funny, facetious and occasionally cruel Meenah is one to watch. Rebellious hearthrob Tariq, sensitively played by Ashley Kumar, examples second generational identity rage in his refusal to marry ‘a Paki’, and is vitally balanced by the beautifully earnest Abdul and Maneer, showcasing the youth who find value in their father’s religious and cultural traditions. Horrocks is irresistibly charming, as you might expect, and seems to become more at ease as the show progresses.
I think what holds back my uproarious applause is that at the critical points where domestic crisis erupts I’m moved in theory rather than in my gut. Partly this is due to how the family scuffles are choreographed and, although it’s true that ordinary people fighting are usually a bit ungraceful, at times the technique becomes visible. Also, Khan Din, playing the centrifugal George Khan, only seems to really emotionally engage with the character at the end of the first act, when the full height of the tyrant father emerges.
Furthermore, the first act, whilst full of brilliant repartees and one liners, sets us up for drama. Shortly into the second act, where we meet the conservative Mr and Mrs Shah, whose daughters George wants his eldest sons to marry, we briefly enter the world of sitcom. And whilst total light relief is welcome against the unrelenting backdrop of international and very local unrest, it seems a little incongruous to the show’s arc. Horrocks makes up for this however with her fabulous delivery of the putdown, “[our kids] might be half bred but at least their not inbred”, and deservedly gets the loudest laugh of the evening.