East is East

East is East (Theatre Royal, Brighton)

I remember seeing a really good play with that great actor Alec McCowen (who was born in Tunbridge Wells, where I went shopping only the other day) in which he played Rudyard Kipling. I think the play was called Kipling, which was a strange coincidence.

By some chance I went to Bateman’s a few weeks ago to see where Mr Kipling wrote (he wasn’t the same man who made the exceedingly good cakes, that was another Mr Kipling) and I was reminded of his wonderful poetry, including The Ballad of East and West which contained the line, “East is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet.”

That poem spawned two memorable classics: first the TV series Never the Twain, starring Donald Sinden (best known for Two’s Company on TV opposite Elaine Stritch) and Windsor Davies (best known for It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum); second the play and later film East Is East which has now been revived and stars Pauline McLynn (probably best known for starring in Jam and Jerusalem on TV).

It is a really good play about a Pakistani from Pakistan who is married to an English woman with different accents and they have lots of children. They have seven children but we only see six of them because the eldest has already gone off to be “a pansy hairdresser” or something like that. I didn’t quite catch the line as I was paying attention to a strawberry mivvi I had in my handbag and was hoping it wouldn’t melt before the interval.

Pauline McLynn plays mum Ella (not Cinderella, as this isn’t a pantomime) and she can often be found smoking and making tea, which I thought was really funny as she used to make tea a lot when she played the housekeeper in that documentary about Catholic priests living on an island.

Writer Ayub Khan Din was inspired to write this play by his own home life, which was quite interesting. I wonder what happened to him after the play? I think someone must have gone off to lead a revolt in East and West Pakistan as you kept on hearing about it in the play, but I don’t think it was him because he became an art student.  Although it was the students who led the unimportant revolution in Les Miserables (which I saw with Alfie Boe with a beard), so I suppose you never can be too sure.

Simon Nagra (who is one of several people in the cast who has appeared in Eastenders on TV) played the father. He owned a fish and chip shop in Salford and got really angry with everyone if there were too many mushy peas left over at the end of the day or if people put too much salt and vinegar on their chips. In one scene he was so cross he didn’t even drink the half cup of tea that had been made for him, which I thought was rather rude. His name was Genghis Khan in the play, but I don’t think this was actually an updated version of the life of the real Genghis Khan (who founded the Mongol Empire and became its emperor and who married someone called Borte after she was kidnapped by Meerkats), unless I really did miss something important in the programme.  

I really like Pauline McLynn as an actress. I last saw her in a play called The Knight of the Burning Pestle, which was a bit rude and in which she appeared alongside Phil Daniels, and I remember thinking how funny it was as they were both in Eastenders but didn’t refer to it once, which just goes to show how professional they are.  It was an odd experience going to that theatre, which is next to the Globe in London, as most of the lighting was provided by candles and I remember being anxious that all the lights had gone out, as they did when I went to see Black Coffee starring Robert Powell (best known for playing Jesus on TV). They hadn’t, of course, but I’m sure the Agatha Christie  theatre company wished they HAD had candles to hand as they could have used them rather than having to send everyone home early.

The young actors playing the Khan children were really good. I expect a lot of them have appeared in Eastenders but I haven’t really watched that since Angie Watts left, as I prefer Coronation Street. When I go to the theatre I record Corrie so I can watch it later, usually when I get home and while I am enjoying a Bournvita and a couple of HobNobs.  

I expect Mr Kipling would be exceedingly surprised that a line from one of his best-known poems (which also include Gunga Din, Mandalay, and If) had gone on to be the title for a play such as East is East. By the sort of strange coincidence that can only happen in the theatre, Robert Powell did a one-man show about Kipling not long ago, but fortunately the lights stayed on throughout the entire performance!

Pam Perde