THEATRE REVIEW - East is East

A scene from East is East

A scene from East is East

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JUST weeks before it arrives at Manchester Opera House, Geoffrey Shryhane watched the London production of Salford-set East is East.

Politically correct it’s not. Magnificently entertaining it is. East is East is on its way “home” to Manchester Opera House and it’s one of those shows about which critics quip: “If you can’t buy a ticket, then steal one.”

Who can forget the award-winning film of decades ago, telling the story of the chip-shop owning Pakistani and his English wife and their high-energy brood of kids who want to throw old traditions to the wind?

Yes, that’s the one – the one where the dad wants to impose the ways of old Pakistan on his mixed-race grown-up children intent to live in the modern new world.

In the film, there’s lots of fun and reasons to laugh. But there are a myriad of darker themes as two cultures clash and collide under the roof of the seen-better-days Salford terraced house.

This new treatment by author Ayub Kahn Din who, incidentally was brought up in a Salford fish and chip shop – has already been well received by the London critics, and during a short tour, the must-see play is at Manchester Opera House for a week from January 16.

Before seeing the play at London’s Trafalgar Studios last week, there were opportunities to chat with both the writer and everyone’s favourite, that fine actress Jane Horrocks, the girl from Rawtenstall in Lancashire who is achieving the statue of national treasure.

A great bonus is that the author is appearing in the play as the father.

Ayub Kahn Din said: “In a way when I come to Manchester I’ll feel like I’m coming home because as a young man I used to pass the Opera House.

“It’s true, I could never have imagined that one day a play of mine would be on the stage – with me in the cast.

“Of course, my mother and dad had a fish and chip shop from about 1948. I began in hairdressing but I was hopeless. I couldn’t even wash hair property.

“One day I picked up one of David Niven’s books...where he decided on a complete change of job. A fuse had been lit. The next day I rang Salford College and asked if they had a drama course. They did and despite the fact that I didn’t have qualifications, they asked me along for an audition.

“I did two pieces from an Anthony Shaffer book – and passed the audition and got on.

“Obviously I’m overjoyed that East is East is back on stage and can’t quite believe that I’m in it. In a way, East is East has never lost its popularity and playing in Manchester is a great bonus. It will be like going home.

Jane Horrocks laughs saying to her acting colleague: “Well you never told me about that audition. It’s amazing.”

Jane, whose mum is still alive and living in Rawtenstall said: “I have so many memories of my childhood. We lived in an ordinary house and after school, I used to go out to play with a friend and we used to sing. As the years went by, my family realised I could imitate the voices of quite a few famous people.

“So it all started from there really. We were regular members of the local Methodist Church so I did quite a lot of singing there.

“At home I used to sing all the time until one day my auntie told me to ‘pack it in.’

Jane spent some time at Oldham College before going to drama school.

She says: “I’ve been very lucky. But sometimes there’s a little bit of guilt that I left my native Lancashire never to return really.

“When I was asked to play the mother figure in East is East I didn’t have to think very long before accepting.

“The play has given me a better understanding of how life works in different cultures. It’s been something of an eye-opener and I’m certainly looking forward to playing Manchester Opera House. May be some of my old school friends will come to see me.”

Jane, who has a partner and two grown-up children, says playing the part of Bubble in Ab Fab was a landmark, and gained great satisfaction playing Gracie Fields in the TV movie.

She said: “In spite of my Lancashire accent, I had to have a voice coach because Gracie’s accent had a bit of American in it.”

The keeper of a diary since she was 14, Jane has said she sometimes looks back on the days long ago when her life was very different.

East is East is at Manchester Opera House for a week from January 26.