East Is East heads to Chichester Festival Theatre for play’s 25th anniversary

George Khan wants to raise his family the proper Pakistani way but hasn’t counted on the distractions of 70s Salford.

Tony Jayawardena
Tony Jayawardena

Abdul and Tariq aren’t ready to be married off, Saleem is pushing artistic boundaries, Meenah’s skirt is too short and Sajid just wants to hide in his parka. Can mum Ella keep the family together?

The play is Ayub Khan Din’s East Is East and it is coming to Chichester Festival Theatre from November 3-6 in a Birmingham Rep and National Theatre co-production marking the play’s 25th anniversary

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

Tony Jayawardena (Ackley Bridge, The Crown, Bend It Like Beckham) is delighted to play George.

“I was offered the role in May and I had been 18 months without theatre which is absolutely the longest time without theatre in my career.

“It was hard and also financially, but I was lucky that I could do some filming between lockdown one and two.

“But it is more the emotional and the mental difficulty of not being able to do it. It just makes you realise that I don’t do this as a job. It is an important part of my life, just being in the room with these people rehearsing and performing. It is so much part of who I am.

“I think I did always assume that we would be able to come back one day, but it was tricky especially in the light of the first lockdown when it was clear that the arts were not massively a priority which was understandable to some degree.

“But it makes people question things.

“But I’m lucky as a performer that I know directors and casting directors that want me for work, and I just feel really fortunate about that.

“But the theatre… For me theatre is what I started doing at school and it was how I was trained, really much more for theatre than for TV or film.

“It is the thing that I have got more experience in and I think I have the greater skill at.

“I don’t think I could ever give up the theatre but at the same time you need the screen work because it gives you, I guess, more opportunities and gets your name out there, and certainly financially screen work is important because it means that you can maintain your theatre work in some ways.

“I have been lucky that I have been part of Ackley Bridge and that has allowed me to pick and choose the theatre that I do to some extent which means that I can really attack the theatre that I do do.

“With East Is East, like a lot of people, I really remember the impact of the film.

“It was the first time that you saw British Asian characters taking centre stage, certainly in my lifetime. It had a huge impact on me and I can recognise aspects of my father in George.”

And also in the father figure in the film Bend It Like Beckham in which Tony also appeared.

“There is a definite connection. It is the story of many Asian families, tackling the generations, an immigrant family coming to a new place and raising their children in a country that they were not raised in themselves and where the rules are very different and so you get the struggle between the generations with the older generation feeling a bit misunderstood and worried about this world that they don’t understand.

“And you have got the younger children that were raised here feeling that the rules of their fathers don’t belong to them.

“George, I think I’m glad that I’m in my 40s now to play him. I think I understand him a little bit more, but that is no excuse for his behaviour. I don’t think it is acceptable in any way and it doesn’t excuse his violence.

“There is domestic abuse in the play, and that was slightly watered down in the film but as I say it doesn’t excuse it

“But I think growing older and my own experience of understanding my own father, you grow to understand more of his fear of raising his children in a world that he doesn’t understand and the way that that can lead to argument and confrontation.

“When he arrives in England India was India and then you had Pakistan and India and then you get Pakistan and Bangladesh.

“He is on slightly shaky ground and when his children are reaching adult age, he is coming to realise that he feels slightly lost.”

Tickets from CFT.