East is East

26 January
Opera House

Ayub Khan-Din’s seminal play, East is East, was first performed in the late 90s, a period of relatively liberal attitudes to first, second and third generation immigrants. Since 9/11 and the subsequent War on Terror, the media and their political lapdogs have reverted back to the Rivers of Blood era in which the play is set, making its themes of assimilation and racism all the more relevant.

The storyline centres on the Khan family, who are struggling for identity in a society that views their interracial marriage with suspicion and contempt. Ella (Jane Horrocks) and George Khan (Ayub Khan-Din) are superb as parents who butt heads over the correct way to bring up seven mixed-race children in 60s Salford. George is a tyrannical father who aims to make them “good Muslims”, dictating their dress and even their marriage suitors. His traditions clash with the children’s, who don’t know what to consider themselves, but Ella regularly takes beatings to allow them more freedom to decide.

The film sticks quite closely to the play, but omitted some telling moments, like when George breaks down, which are powerfully affecting in this performance. Although you can’t sympathise with some of his actions, it is clear the family love each other despite their idiosyncrasies, which is what makes the nuanced script such a triumph. This is a three-dimensional picture in which the audience can feel the friction of growing up amongst vastly different cultures. It is done with pathos and, like most good drama, a lot of humour, making the tragic moments all the more prevalent to the disarmed audience.

Nathan McIlroy

An Evening of Filth and Despair

22 January

The erotic novel is not always a genre that garners great critical acclaim, but it is one that can offer serious financial rewards for those ready to take a risk. Or at least that's what author Pamela De Menthe (Jenny May Morgan) tells us in her writing workshop-cum-nervous breakdown, An Evening of Filth and Despair.

The craft of copy-pasting from Wikipedia, the ingenuity of a good illustration and the art of the repeated adjective are all covered here, as De Menthe's brutalist style is explained. But, as her personal life becomes increasingly intertwined with her work, what once came so easily is suddenly so hard, with the strain on De Menthe leading to erratic rather than erotic outcomes.

The writing, also by Morgan, had the audience laughing from almost the first syllable, with a good balance between silliness and structure throughout. It is hard to imagine how Morgan came up with this idea, but equally it is difficult to see De Menthe doing anything different. The character and story is ridiculous, yet somehow right. Morgan’s performance as De Menthe was a slow burner, building as the play progressed and reaching a climax in a scene where De Menthe reads an extract from her new novel, Sticky Digits.

An Evening of Filth and Despair is a very fun piece, and Morgan has done a good job of expanding it from a short work into an hour-long affair. She plays the character well, particularly in the second half where her energy levels increased accordingly with the character’s despair. Whether or not this is the last we see of De Menthe, I don't know, but it certainly feels like a character that could have further outings should the chance arise.

Andrew Anderson

The Tongue Twister

24 January

Winner of Equity's Vicky Allen Memorial Award at 2014’s 24:7, this is the one play I managed to miss from last year’s line-up. Fortunately for me the good people at HOME have taken it on at Re:play, so – with children weaving in and out between the seats – I sat down to see what all the fuss is about.

The first thing to say is that the surrounds of Number One First Street are the ideal setting for this play. Grey, spacious and faceless, it matches the world that the children of The Tongue Twister live in. For those like me who missed it last time, the story revolves around a boy called Plug who moves to a new town, only to find that everyone there wears grey, rhyming is reprimanded and the children are terrified of a monster called the Tongue Twister who pulls out people’s tongues for verse violations.

The second thing to say is that the story is very good, one that sticks with you after seeing it and feels like a fable that could have been around forever. The message that art should be enjoyed by the many rather than hoarded for the few is positive, and the language used – much of the play's dialogue is indeed done in rhyme – brought a smile to my face, especially the bits about vomiting. My only issue was that a lot of the text was quite complicated, so large parts may have gone over the kids’ heads. Then again, I enjoyed similar things when younger without really understanding all of it, so perhaps it isn’t a problem.

The third thing to say is that the acting and direction was all very accomplished, with a script that probably took a good deal of memorising for the actors and a lot of imagination from the director to get it working well on stage. In particular, Jack Dearsley as Plug did a great job of expressing the joy his character found in the simple act of speaking, while Josie Cerise did good work as the fresh-faced and wide-eyed Jemima.

I have resisted the temptation to rhyme in this review, but it wasn't easy, and that is the charm of this play. It makes you want to play, be silly and take a walk on the childish side of life.

Andrew Anderson

Tuesday at Tescos

21 January

The monologue opens with our storyteller, Pauline, sitting in front of a small, white wall with projections of grey landscape, buildings and train tracks rushing past. She is on her way somewhere and, silhouetted as she is, it’s difficult to work out how she feels about this. Over the next hour she tells us, as honestly as she can, how she feels about the trip that she makes every Tuesday to visit and support her elderly father.

For the first part of her life, Pauline was Paul. Dressed in a bright red cardigan and mini skirt, black heels and sparkling jewelry, with a smart brown bob and striking, feature-enhancing make-up, Pauline is now herself. But her father can’t accept her and, when she returns each week to the town she grew up in, she feels like a spectacle.

Scott Kentell’s performance as Pauline is moving and versatile. The character switches between mimicking the voice of her father and those she meets on one particular Tuesday, her memories and her anxieties, the things she could say and the brave things she does say. There is a sense of loneliness, not just around the character of her father, but also around Pauline. It seems as though Tuesdays with her father offer her a rare opportunity to truly connect with someone else, even if reaching out leads to feeling hurt and frustrated. Her refusal to clean Paul’s childhood bedroom suggests deeper troubles. All of this is subtly and beautifully communicated to us by Kentell.

Sue Womersley’s direction ensures that the main focus is on Pauline and her story. Although the piece is an hour with only one performer, the use of the stage and the management of nuances in the storytelling mean that the audience remains engaged, without reliance on anything flash or showy. One thing I wasn’t certain about was the speed with which the big revelation was delivered. I can understand reasons for this being a faster pace – it’s an uncomfortable confession and needs an impact – but I felt that it got a bit lost and the audience weren’t given enough time to absorb it before the suddenness of the many, almost relentless, projected family videos of Paul playing as a child, marking the end of the piece.

The writing is beautiful – humorous, dark and uplifting from moment to moment. The repetition of Pauline’s self-affirming line that she is, and actually always was, “me, myself; me, as I am now,” adds something of a fable quality which jars cleverly with the fact that we are being invited into Pauline’s ‘real’ life. The acting and the writing work together very successfully to make this inescapably poignant storytelling.

Julie Burrow