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The premiere of this Ayub Khan Din’s play was twenty-five years ago, and it’s set 25 years before that. It was his first play, at least partly based on his own life experiences. In a programme Q&A he suggests in might not have been put on today because of the sensitivities about ‘what we write about ourselves and what people write about us’. That would have been a tragedy, as in this new production by Iqbal Khan it proves to be a timeless reflection on, and illumination of, the British Asian experience. It’s also very funny.

George came to the UK from Pakistan in 1936. He married British native Ella and they have seven children. One is estranged after refusing an arranged marriage, but the other six are still at home, helping out in the family business, a fish & chip shop in Salford. He tries to impose his Muslim traditions but they rebel; they were born and brought up in the UK. One seems to be loyal, another respectful but questioning and three clear rebels. The youngest is lost in his own world, yet to form his views.

The primary issues are circumcision, somewhat late, for youngest Sajit and arranged marriages for Abdul & Tariq to Mr Shah’s daughters. George is determined to exercise what he sees as his rightful authority as their father, but the sons (egged on by their feisty sister Meenah) are resolute that they are British not Pakistani and that these traditions have no place here. A culture clash that perhaps many British Asians experience between the world in which they’ve been brought up and the traditions that their parents brought here with them. George does himself no favours by the way he treats his wife, and her knowledge that there is another wife back in Pakistan. Apart from the 70’s clothes and decor, it could be today.

One of the key’s to the success of this revival is the superb ensemble, banishing memories of the two productions I’ve seen before. Tony Jayawardena and Sophie Stanton are both superb at conveying the cultural tensions George & Ella have to live with, but also the love they have for one another and their children. The six siblings are all terrific at conveying the whole spectrum of loyalty / rebelliousness, and Rachel Lumberg is wonderful as family friend Auntie Annie – she gets some of the best lines, including the play’s best joke, commenting on the gifts Sajit gets after his circumcision.

A great production of what now seems to be a modern classic.

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This play was first produced in 1996 (another 18 year revival), the same year Goodness Gracious Me came to our TV screens; both important events for British Asian culture. It’s set 25 years before that, so now we’re looking back 43 years, yet I suspect British families of Pakistani origin are facing the same plus, with the arrival of fundamentalism, even more complex issues; the play still resonates and entertains.

Ayub Khan Din writes about a mixed marriage in Salford. George came from Pakistan in 1936, leaving behind another family he still supports. He has seven children with Ella, six boys and a girl, now all teenagers or young men. George’s attempts to impose Pakistani customs have already driven his eldest away; his kids feel more British than Asian, don’t speak Urdu and have little or no respect for customs like appropriate dress and arranged marriage. It’s played against a backdrop of the then war between East & West Pakistan, which led to the creation of Bangla Desh. The family runs a chippie where they all work at some time. In the first half, we glimpse their normal daily lives, then in the second we get a visit from the parents of two girls destined to marry two of the boys, which becomes a turning point for the family and the play.

It’s a well structured and well written piece with particularly fine characterisations. The culture clash and sibling relationships seem ever so real and it covers a lot of issues in a surprising amount of depth whilst always entertaining. There are both shocking and moving moments so soon after laughter that they are heightened. Even though your sympathies are with Ella and her kids, George proves to be a not entirely unsympathetic character, more a product of his upbringing than inherently bad. Designer Tom Scutt has built a row of terraced houses on the relatively small Trafalgar Studios stage with the home and chippie created by props in the centre of the it; this anchors the play very effectively in both the community and the period. It’s great to see director Sam Yates graduate from terrific work on the fringe (Cornelius and (another) Mixed Marriage at the Finborough and The EI Train at Hoxton Hall) to the West End, and his staging is very assured.

It’s also great to see the playwright in the role he created now that he’s old enough to play it! Linda Bassett (the original Ella) is a hard act to follow, but Jane Horrocks (also great to see her back on stage) makes it her own, a more feisty but still loving wife and mother. The actors playing the six ‘children’ are all excellent; I was particularly impressed by Taj Atwal as Menah, the only daughter and even more feisty than her mum. Sally Banks is terrific as Auntie Annie, never far from Ella, both of them chain-smoking and forever tea-drinking.

A very welcome revival.

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