Q&A

Kwame Kwei-Armah, artis­tic di­rec­tor

The Guardian - Weekend - - Contents - Rosanna Green­street

Born in Lon­don, Kwei-Armah, 51, ap­peared in the BBC drama se­ries Ca­su­alty for five years. In 2003, he wrote his first play for the Na­tional Theatre, Elmina’s Kitchen, which was short­listed for an Olivier award. In 2011, he joined Bal­ti­more’s Cen­ter Stage theatre as artis­tic di­rec­tor, where he spent seven years. This year, he be­came artis­tic di­rec­tor of Lon­don’s Young Vic theatre; his first pro­duc­tion, a mu­si­cal Twelfth Night, runs un­til 17 Novem­ber. He is mar­ried, has four chil­dren and lives in Lon­don.

When were you hap­pi­est?

When my mother was alive. She passed away 14 years ago.

What is your ear­li­est mem­ory?

Go­ing shop­ping with my mother, to Southall mar­ket, when I was about four.

What is the trait you most de­plore in your­self?

Get­ting anx­ious be­fore a first night. I can’t bear it.

What is the trait you most de­plore in oth­ers?

What I per­ceive to be un­mo­ti­vated or un­war­ranted anx­i­ety, so it’s re­ally the same thing that I hate in my­self.

What was your most em­bar­rass­ing mo­ment?

Lis­ten­ing at the door of a girl I fan­cied and hear­ing her to­tally rip me apart. I was stand­ing there with my brother, about to go in and be smooth. It was hor­ri­ble.

Prop­erty aside, what’s the most ex­pen­sive thing you’ve bought?

A fam­ily hol­i­day – any­where the kids de­mand. Last year, I wanted us all to go to Egypt and my daugh­ter said, “No, we’re go­ing to go to Gre­nada.” So we did.

What is your most trea­sured pos­ses­sion?

My mother’s ticket from Gre­nada to Eng­land in 1962. I have it framed.

What do you most dis­like about your ap­pear­ance?

My ro­tund stom­ach. What makes s you un­happy?

See­ing poverty overty of spirit and phys­i­cal poverty. When I see home­less­ness me­less­ness on the streets, it pains me.

To whom would ould you most like to say sorry, and why?

To any­one e I’ve hurt un­in­ten­tion­ally.

What or who o is the great­est love of your life?

It’s a col­lec­tive ec­tive – my fam­ily.

Which words s or phrases do you most overuse?

Lit­er­ally.

What is the worst job you’ve done?

Do­ing the e bins while work­ing for McDon­ald’s in west Eal­ing. ng.

What has been en your big­gest dis­ap­point­ment?

When I re­alised ealised I wasn’t go­ing to make it as a singer­song­writer when I was about 25.

What is your guilti­est plea­sure?

Go­ing to a Korean spa. When I was in Bal­ti­more, I went ev­ery week. I would take my scripts, and go in and out of the heated igloos and jet baths.

What has been your clos­est brush with the law?

When I was 14 there was a riot in Southall. I was stand­ing at the top of my street look­ing at the Ham­brough Tav­ern pub burn­ing down. A po­lice van drove on to the pave­ment; they got out and started chasing ev­ery­one, beat­ing peo­ple, and then ar­rest­ing them. I ran, quickly, and nar­rowly es­caped.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

Any song by Donny Hathaway.

How would you like to be re­mem­bered?

As some­one who cared about oth­ers.

What is the most im­por­tant les­son life has taught you?

To lis­ten

My most trea­sured pos­ses­sion? My mother’s ticket from Gre­nada to Eng­land in 1962. I have it framed

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