It was Valentine's Day 2007, and I had a blind lunch date. She was a beautiful actress-comedienne and I was a producer on the up. We met in a lovely café in Hampstead and I brought her a rose. It was all very exciting.
Things were going brilliantly until half way through - her boyfriend turned up.
He looked at the rose in a disgruntled sort of way and then, turning his baleful eye on me, said just about the most unexpected thing imaginable in the circumstances:
"So, I have an idea for a story about a Muslim who finds out he's adopted and is in fact Jewish. Do you think that's something you might be interested in?"
"Yes", I said. "Yes, let's do that".
Three years of very hard work later, THE INFIDEL came out in cinemas. The tale of Mahmoud Nasir, the average East London Muslim caught in the worst identity crisis possible, became both critically acclaimed and a palpable hit around the world.
Seven years later, I find myself still saying, "Yes" to David Baddiel and to that question, as we embark on the final straight of putting on the latest manifestation of THE INFIDEL. This time it's a stage musical, with an ear-worming, foot-tapping, and fantastically catchy score by Erran Baron Cohen (whose film soundtracks include The Dictator, Borat & Bruno); to open, with a fair Kickstarter wind, at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in October.
Some footnotes, at this point, might be necessary:
1. I knew that my lunch with the wondrous Morwenna Banks was not in- fact a date, as her agent had arranged it. I was aware that she had a boyfriend, but, being an idiot when it comes to British celebrity gossip, I had genuinely no idea that he was David Baddiel, or that he would be joining our meeting. As to why I took Wen a rose, well, who wouldn't?
2. THE INFIDEL was an IMPOSSIBLY difficult film to get financed. It was the hardest I have ever worked on, as literally every studio, financier, and sales agent in town passed on it at least once, and several of them, just to be sure, did so multiple times. The reasons given were various and inconsistent, but lurking behind them all we detected the same issue: a vague but powerful fear of a broad comedy about Muslims and Jews. The sense that it was, at a minimum, offensive and at worst, a 90-minute invitation for a firebombing.
3. When the movie came out though and the opposite happened. Whilst the movie and still more the musical, never hesitate to shoot sacred cows of religious irrationality and prejudice, our story had the unexpected effect of uniting religious groups instead of drawing condemnation.
THE INFIDEL, to our delight and bewildered surprise, became an olive branch of interfaith understanding and showed at venues as diverse as the Anti-Defamation League events in New York and a synagogue in Bradford that was saved by Muslims. We were invited to show the movie to audiences of conservative Jews and Muslims, and watch in happy wonderment as their shared laughter became a kind of unifying balm, soothing their distrust of and prejudice against each other.
So now, we're hoping to do it again, this time with show-tunes, burka clad break-dancers, and a chorus of Chassids. But we do need some help. We have the backing of the wonderful Theatre Royal Stratford East, which is pledging the majority of the budget and holding a slot for us in October, but our show is more ambitious and expensive than the theatre can afford. Whilst we are confident that it will be a show with legs - those old concerns about being comedy regarding the relationships between Muslims and Jews, still lurk at the edges.
So we are turning to the generosity of our audience, via the wonder of Kickstarter. Starting this week, we're asking for donations in exchange for a really fun list of rewards and access, to help complete our budget and make THE INFIDEL a dancing, singing, jazz-hand waving reality.
Go on, help us out, otherwise I'll be reduced to sending roses to each and every one of you individually. www.infidelthemusical.com