Blast from the Past: Interview with Indhu Rubasingham

Indhu Rubasingham is one of this country’s most exciting and original theatremakers. Since May 2012 she has been making her mark as artistic director at the Tricycle Theatre. To say she hit the ground running would be an understatement. Her first play as artistic director, Lolita Chakrabarti’s Red Velvet starring her husband Adrian Lester, won the Charles Wintour Award for Most Promising Playwright at the Evening Standard Awards. Tricycle’s new audience share went up by 41 per cent, and the current production of Arabian Nights is attracting strong reviews. Rubasingham tells Joy Francis of her commitment to bringing unheard voices into the mainstream and why the funding challenge is at the top of her to do list.  

Belated congratulations on your new role as artistic director at Tricycle Theatre. How does it feel as you have had a long association with the theatre?

It feels very different as now I’m in charge, basically. My [past] relationship has been working for the building and the management. Now I am management. It is a different head space. It is challenging but also exciting. I’m thinking about the organisation, the industry and the implications of my decisions.

Your predecessor Nicholas Kent said that you will lead the theatre with imagination and boldness. Do you feel you are doing that?

My first play [Red Velvet] went off with a bit of a bang so I can’t complain. It did what I had hoped to achieve within my first year. It increased our new audience share by 41 per cent and reached a really mixed audience in age, culture and background. It is the Tricycle’s fastest selling show and was nominated for two Evening Standard Awards. It made people talk, which is fantastic. Arabian Nights is doing the same. It is fun, has a depth to it and a real political context. I’m pleased with how things are going, but I’m not resting on my laurels.

You said you wanted to lead the Tricycle with your vision. What is that vision?

My vision is to be an important local theatre with an international vision to bring unheard voices into the mainstream, and to be a theatre that is accessible to all those who are interested in theatre.

When I interviewed you two years ago, you said that you didn’t like commenting on the “politics of my industry”, but you did say that there were too few people of colour in power. Now you are in a more powerful position, what impact do you think that will have?

I don’t want to raise expectations beyond my capabilities. Sometimes, as a person of colour, the expectations can be too high and they will never be lived up to. All I can hope is that I produce good work that bring in audiences, that impact and influence other theatres as much as they impact and influence me, and show, by example, how you can remove the obstacles that can get in the way of you achieving.

Nicholas Kent was very candid about the challenges of funding theatre. This challenge now faces you. What do you believe needs to happen for the Tricycle to be on surer ground?

We need to raise a lot of money and fundraising is really vital. It is my biggest worry and challenge, full stop. The ambition, the vision and the staff – that is all in place. It is about being able to make sure it will happen as we are in difficult times.

What type of plays you want to showcase?

I’m interested in stories and the drama that reveal the politics rather than the politics leading the drama. I’m still working on the programme for 2013. It’s about making sure it is a varied palate to attract different types of audiences, including younger audiences.

Arabian Nights is your latest production. Why did you choose this classic story?

I really wanted to do a non-Eurocentric family show in Brent as it is one of the most diverse boroughs in London. Mary Zimmerman’s wonderful version is for 10 years old and above. Lu Kemp, the director, is incredibly inventive and provides physical direction. She has this Iranian Indy band, Take It Easy Hospital, who are doing the music, and an illusionist. It is a multinational and multilingual cast. It is just very beautiful and works on so many levels.

What advice would you give to anyone who wants to be a theatre director?

I think if you really really want to do it, keep going.  Tenacity and curiosity are just as important as talent.

Arabian Nights is running at the Tricycle Theatre until Thursday 12 January 2013. Tickets range from £10-£20. For more information visit