An interview with Hanif Kureishi - 'There's a lot of truth in this show'

Hanif Kureishi’s new production of My Beautiful Laundrette received its premiere at Leicester’s Curve this week.

Based on his Oscar-nominated screenplay for the 1985 film, it has been a huge hit with theatre audiences and critics alike.

DMU, which runs a partnership with the world-class theatre, has also seen students get involved in the production by running workshops for school pupils.

This week, Hanif sat down with Professor Claire Monk, of DMU’s Cinema and Television History Centre, and one of the play’s actors Gordon Warnecke, for a Q&A with a Curve audience.

HANIF main

Is My Beautiful Laundrette still relevant today?

Well, it’s relevant today if people want to see it and if they enjoy it. I mean the film was 30 years ago but it's quite lively story. It's a love story, it's about skinheads, it's about fascism, it's about washing machines, and it's about gay sex. I mean what more would you want to have a good time in the theatre?

I just hope young people are going to see it, who know nothing about the film, know nothing about Daniel Day Lewis and nothing about the history, you know, and they want a good night at the theatre with some great new music from the Pet Shop Boys. There's a lot of new writing in the script, a lot of new jokes I've added and we’re here to entertain people. Come and see it.

How does it feel to see your play come to life on the stage?

Well, it's really nerve-wracking at the beginning, and then I met Nikolai (Foster) the director. I fell in love with him. He's a beautiful man. He's a really sweet man and a very, very intelligent director. It's when you know you've got away with it, when the reviews are okay, when the audiences are good and when the actors are starting to enjoy it, you know, you really know you are driving a Rolls-Royce and this is going to be a very successful show and it's going to be a big hit in the West End as well.

What message do you want young people to take away from the play?

Well the play is partly about racism, it's partly about the search for identity, a national identity. There are skinheads and fascists and capitalists and's a whole range of characters. It's a lot of fun but also there's a lot of truth in this show and I hope that it's also very serious and really enjoyable. What more do you want for a good night out?

On racism today

We are experiencing a different kind of racism. Street racism when I was growing up was everyday racism. Today, people are much more open about it. We thought we had moved on so much and we have not at all.

On Asians integrating in the UK

We have really integrated well. You turn on the telly and all you see is Asians. I was watching the other day and Priti Patel was on, then I switched over and Sajiv Javid was talking. Then I saw the Mayor of London. I tell you, we are practically running the country!

On coping with criticism

If you write something people are going to be horrible to you. It is the price you pay for being an artist. I have been writing since I was 17 or 18 and people say the most horrible, nasty things about you. Sometimes you do well. With this show we have had very good notices.

But you cannot sit in the corner and cry. You have to get on with it. You cannot be a shrinking violet in this business.

On HBO America’s plans to make their version of My Beautiful Laundrette

I sold the rights to them and they are making it contemporary (the film and stage play are set in Thatcher’s Britain). It’s nothing to do with me, guv! I get a credit but I have nothing else to do with it.

I am just going to sit at home and watch the letterbox flapping as the money comes in!

On the Pet Shop Boys writing new music for the play

I knew Neil Tennant (lead singer) when he worked at Faber as an intern. So, I emailed him to ask if he and Chris would be interested and he emailed me back and said yes.

In fact, they said they were going to Berlin and would start on the tracks that Monday. They are great people, have great energy and are very sweet.

On Daniel Day Lewis playing Johnny in the film

He was quite a threatening guy. Much more threatening than Gary Oldman and Tim Roth who had come from rough areas. There was a real edge to him. He looked like a punk. His father was a Poet Laureate. How did that happen? Daniel Day Lewis was also an extraordinary looking young man.

On Joe Orton coming from Leicester

I loved Joe Orton. I loved his sense of humour, his sense of irony and his jokes. And he was working class. He wasn’t from Oxbridge and from a posh background. He came from nowhere…I don’t mean Leicester is nowhere…you know what I mean. He is so relevant and still being studied. Him and Gary Lineker. What more could you want?

On Channel 4 and ethnic minorities in the 1980s

I grew up in Bromley with a Pakistani Muslim father and my mother was white working class. I am a bit of everything. I am a bit of both. I wrote My Beautiful Laundrette from both sides

There were not many actors of colour at the time. There were very few mainly because there really was not any work at all.  When I was at Channel 4 (who funded the film) I refused to go into the ‘ethnic minorities department’. I do not want to be in a special department. I want to be with everyone else. It was a dilemma for me. I wanted to be in a majority.


Posted on Friday 4 October 2019

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