The Kiln Theatre annouced today that Indhu Rubasingham is to step down as artistic director. She will finish her term in early 2024 and meanwhile the role of artistic director of Kiln Theatre will be advertised, and the recruitment process will begin later this month.
Aside from her impact on the cultural offer at the theatre Rubasingham was embroiled in controversy early in her tenure in 2014 when conflict in the Middle East was intense and the theatre decided not to accept Israeli monetary support for the UK Jewish Film Festival. In the face of misleading press reports the theatre issued this statement
The Tricycle has always welcomed the Festival and wants it to go ahead. We have proudly hosted the UK Jewish Film Festival for many years. However, given the situation in Israel and Gaza, we do not believe that the festival should accept funding from any party to the current conflict. For that reason, we asked the UK Jewish Film Festival to reconsider its sponsorship by the Israeli Embassy. We also offered to replace that funding with money from our own resources. The Tricycle serves many communities and celebrates different cultures and through difficult, emotional times must aim for a place of political neutrality.
Nevertheless the Jewish Film Festival withdrew from what was then the Tricycle and Brent Conservatives proposed that Brent Council stopped contributing to its funding.
May Bank Holiday Protest 2018
The renaming of the Tricycle was the next controversy on her watch when it was proposed that the name of the theatre should be changed to The Kiln as part of a relaunch. This led to demonstrations by angry theatre goers outside the premises, a Facebook group 'Our Tricycle not your Kiln' and the launch of a petition:
The name of the theatre and cinema that the local community has loyally supported for many years has been changed, without consultation, from ‘The Tricycle’ to ‘The Kiln’. The attempt at re-branding is unnecessary, costly and squanders the established reputation of The Tricycle. The loss of loyalty may lead to the theatre closing - already many local people have declared their intention to boycott it when it reopens. In addition the name ‘The Kiln’ has unfortunate associations to a fire in the eighties, when the theatre burned to the ground. Please support us by signing the petition for the name to be changed back to The Tricycle - It only takes a moment...
Indhu Rubasingham oversaw a substantial £9m refurbishment programme at The Kiln and the statement from the theatre below sets out what they see as her achievements as artistic director:
Kiln Theatre today announces that Indhu Rubasingham will step down as Artistic Director of the company, leaving early 2024, having led the company for over a decade.
Indhu Rubasingham said today, “I never had an inkling of the journey ahead when I was first was appointed. I immediately felt the responsibility, but what emerged was both challenging and exhilarating, an experience I will carry with me for the rest of my life. It has been an immense honour to be Artistic Director of Kiln Theatre. I have learnt and grown so much over these past 11 years. It has given me the privilege and opportunity to work with many brilliant people, who have contributed to the successes of Kiln; a theatre with a mission that is heartfelt and held by the whole team. I am deeply grateful to the Board of Trustees chaired by Sita McIntosh and former trustees and Chairs for their support and guidance and care of Kiln, and also to the many donors and Arts Council England who have allowed the Kiln to flourish and achieve all the things it has. It is a wonderful space, that welcomes us in to immerse ourselves in different worlds, narratives and experiences. I have been very lucky to be part of its story. It now feels the right moment to pass the baton and herald the next chapter of this unique theatre.”
Chair of the Board, Sita McIntosh commented, “Indhu has brought so many incredible qualities to the role of Artistic Director – a flair for programming, the innate ability to combine the commercial with artistic risk, and to bring a wealth of voices into the Kiln, never afraid to challenge, to ask questions, and to bring out the very best in those whose work she champions. However, it’s not only on the stage that her presence is felt, she’s put creative engagement at the very forefront of the company’s ethos, firmly believing theatre should be accessible to everyone through the work and through training opportunities. She’s a rare talent, and she will be much missed. Her greatest legacy is the building, which through a major capital project, she has future proofed for generations, and it’s that building that will host the next chapter for the company as we look for a new Artistic Director to build on Indhu’s evident successes.”
Rubasingham took up her role at Kiln Theatre (then Tricycle Theatre) in 2012 – having previously directed Women, Power and Politics, Stones in His Pockets, Detaining Justice, The Great Game: Afghanistan, Fabulation and Starstruck for the company – and immediately, with Board support, repositioned the company’s mission to bring unheard voices to the mainstream.
Her first production as Artistic Director was the critically acclaimed award-winning Red Velvet by Lolita Chakrabarti, starring Adrian Lester as Ira Aldridge. The production was nominated for the Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre; and Chakrabarti won the Evening Standard Theatre Award for Most Promising Playwright. The production later transferred to St Ann’s Warehouse in New York and to the Garrick Theatre as part of Kenneth Branagh’s season.
New writing became a mainstay of Rubasingham’s tenure and was followed with Philip Himberg’s Paper Dolls – a new musical inspired by a true story with an international company combining languages, musical genres, cultures and gender identity. Other highlights include Moira Buffini’s Handbagged which examines the relationship between Queen Elizabeth II and Margaret Thatcher. The production opened to critical acclaim in 2013 winning the Olivier Award for Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre, before transferring to the West End and Washington, and Rubasingham revived the production last year in what was to prove timely programming. She also directed Marcus Gardley’s The House That Will Not Stand and The Wolf in Snakeskin Shoes (with long-term partners Lucian Msamati, Adjoa Andoh and Sharon D Clarke, the latter who returned for Susie McKenna’s production of Blues in the Night); and Ayad Akhtar’s The Invisible Hand, which was one of the last productions under the Tricycle Theatre name, and was later revived as part of the reopening season post the Covid-19 pandemic, garnering Olivier Award nominations for Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre for both runs.
Two key relationships under her leadership were with the writers Florian Zeller and Zadie Smith. The company presented Zeller’s triptych of plays – The Father, The Mother and The Son, with both The Father and The Son receiving West End transfers. Rubasingham began her working relationship with Smith with White Teeth, which was adapted for the stage by Stephen Sharkey and formed part of the opening season at Kiln Theatre. A book firmly rooted in the local community, Smith and Rubasingham followed this with a new collaboration on The Wife of Willesden, which enjoyed two sell-out runs at the company’s home base, before transferring to American Repertory Theatre, Harvard University and Brooklyn Academy of Music. Smith now sits on the Board of Kiln Theatre.
Other writers commissioned, produced and presented during Rubasingham’s period as Artistic Director include Anupama Chandrasekhar, Samuel Adamson, Alexi Kaye Campbell, John Hollingworth, Marina Carr, April De Angelis, Inua Ellams, Suhayla El-Bushra, Alexis Zegerman,Lynn Nottage, Zodwa Nyoni, Amy Trigg, Chinonyerem Odimba, Colman Domingo, and most recently Ryan Calais Cameron with the critically acclaimed sell-out production of Retrograde, directed by Associate Director Amit Sharma. Partnerships and co-productions included with the National Theatre on The Great Wave by Frances Turnley, which Rubasingham directed (and is now on the school syllabus), Abbey Theatre, Tamasha, tiata fahodzi, Fiery Angel, Eleanor Lloyd Productions, Bath Theatre Royal, Paines Plough, Frantic Assembly, Complicité, Theatre Royal Plymouth, Opera Up Close and Muju.
Perhaps most significantly, Rubasingham oversaw a £9m major capital refurbishment future proofing the theatre for the next generation of theatremakers. The necessary works preserved the glories of the original building whilst making it a theatre for today, fit for purpose for modern companies and audiences. The newly-renovated theatre features an upgraded auditorium with a flexible stage, better seating, improved accessibility; and a street-front café on Kilburn High Road. The theatre reopened in 2018 with a new name, Kiln Theatre.
During this period, Rubasingham and her team spearheaded an expansion of creative engagement work, putting their commitment to the local community and emerging artists at the very core of the theatre’s output. These initiatives included the growth of Minding the Gap – a drama project for young people aged 14-19 who are newly arrived in the UK, with lived experience of migration and/or who identify as refugees and asylum seekers from Kiln’s partner schools and colleges in Brent, Youth Theatre, Young Companies, and The Agency, which was part of Brent 2020, London Borough of Culture. In addition to the extensive Creative Engagement programme, Kiln Theatre also runs an artist development programme for residents of North West London, to support and inform practice, inspire and release creativity.
She led the company, with Executive Director Daisy Heath, during the Covid-19 pandemic, and utilising the support of the Job Retention Scheme and the Culture Recovery Fund kept the staff and building together, whilst repositioning themselves during lockdown as a support and hub for the local area. In recognition of this work, and their reopening season, Kiln Theatre won The Stage 2021 Award for London Theatre of the Year. Also, as part of Kiln’s post-Covid reopening, in 2021 Kiln created their new Backstage Designer Residencies scheme, mentored by Tom Piper, which seeks to have a real impact both on the relationship between creative freelancers and building-based organisations, and on the lack of accessible pathways into theatre design careers. With this paid training opportunity, Kiln piloted Universal Basic Income-type support for early career theatre designers. Routes in, access into the industry and artistic excellence are the cornerstones of Rubasingham’s Kiln Theatre.
The last three words may raise hackles amongst the Tricycle loyalists (It's OUR Tricycle not YOUR Kiln') with one Twitter commenter musing today, 'I wonder what the next artistic director will rename The Kiln.'
Asked about Indhu's futue plans The Kiln said there was nothing to add at this stage.