• Sunday, July 14, 2024


Indhu Rubasingham becomes first woman to lead National Theatre

She will succeed current Director and Chief Executive Rufus Norris.

Indhu Rubasingham (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)

By: Amit Roy

ONE of the top jobs in the arts has gone to Indhu Rubasingham, who has been appointed director and joint chief executive of the National Theatre in London.

She will succeed Rufus Norris who will be stepping down from the post in spring 2025, when his second term ends.

Rubasingham, who was born in Sheffield in 1970 to parents who came to the UK from Sri Lanka, is no stranger to the National, Britain’s premier venue for experimental and challenging theatre.

Earlier this year she received a best director ACTA (Arts Culture & Theatre Awards) from Eastern Eye for for her work on The Father and the Assassin, Anupama Chandrasekhar’s play on the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi seen from the perspective of his killer, Nathuram Godse.

The National also won an ACTA in 2020 for its work in promoting diversity, which was picked up by Norris. Rubasingham follows in the footsteps of some of the most illustrious figures in theatre. Laurence Olivier was in charge from 1962-1973. He was followed as director by Peter Hall (1973- 1988); Richard Eyre (1988-1997); Trevor Nunn (1997-2003) and Nicholas Hytner (2003-2015).

She has worked regularly at the National in all three South Bank auditoriums, directing productions including The Waiting Room, The Ramayana, The Motherf*cker With the Hat, The Great Wave, Ugly Lies the Bone, and Kerry Jackson.

Reacting to her appointment, Rubasingham said: “It’s a huge honour to be appointed director of the National Theatre – for me, this is the best job in the world. The National has played an important part in my life – from tentative steps as a teenage theatregoer, to later as a theatre-maker, and to have the opportunity to play a role in its history is an incredible privilege and responsibility.

“Theatre has a transformative power – the ability to bring people together through shared experience and storytelling, and nowhere more so than the National. I’ve been fortunate to have directed on the National Theatre’s stages and to have witnessed firsthand the commitment, collaboration, brilliance and pride of those who bring the magic to the building, both on stage and off.

“There’s nowhere like it, and it will be a joy to be a part of this iconic building’s next chapter, leading the company alongside Kate [Varah].

“I am thrilled to be following in the footsteps of Rufus, and I look forward to working closely with him from next year as I plan my first season.”

Norris welcomed the appointment of his successor: “Indhu is an exceptional artist who I respect and admire hugely, and I am so pleased that she will become the next director when I step down in 2025. She has run Kiln Theatre expertly for over a decade and I know this experience will be invaluable as she moves to the NT – a place she knows well, having directed successfully in each of the three theatres…. I know that the National will continue to thrive and remain at the heart of British cultural life. I look forward to working closely with Indhu over my last year as director.”

Rubasingham will work alongside executive director Kate Varah who also becomes joint chief executive in a co-leadership model.

Varah said Rubasingham was “someone I deeply admire as an artist and as a leader. Importantly, I believe we share the same values and aspirations for this incomparable theatre. I look forward to starting a new chapter leading together, working with the best artists and colleagues to make theatre that entertains and inspires audiences across the world.”

The National briefly sketched out Rubasingham’s career.

She has been artistic director of Kiln Theatre since 2012. Notable collaborations during her tenure include with Zadie Smith on White Teeth, and most recently The Wife of Willesden which transferred to BAM in New York earlier this year, and with Ayad Aktar on The Invisible Hand, which was twice Olivier Award nominated.

Other directing credits include the multiaward-winning Red Velvet and Handbagged, When The Crows Visit, A Wolf In Snakeskin Shoes, Multitudes, The House That Will Not Stand, and Paper Dolls. Highlights of her programming include Florian Zeller trilogy – The Father, The Mother and The Son; and Ryan Calais Cameron’s Retrograde.

Rubasingham graduated from Hull University with a BA Hons in drama. Appointed artistic director of Tricycle Theatre in 2012, she worked to bring unheard voices into the mainstream. Her programming incuded both world and British premieres. During her tenure, she oversaw a £9 million major capital refurbishment, future proofing the theatre for the next generation of theatre-makers, reopening in 2018 as Kiln Theatre.

She also led an expansion of creative engagement work, putting the company’s commitment to the local community and emerging artists at the heart of the theatre’s output.

In recognition of this work, and their post-Covid reopening season, Kiln Theatre won The Stage 2021 award for London theatre of the year.

Her inaugural production as artistic director of the Kiln was the multi-award-winning Red Velvet by Lolita Chakrabarti (Evening Standard award and Critics’ Circle award), which later transferred to St Ann’s Warehouse in New York, and to the Garrick Theatre as part of Kenneth Branagh’s season.

Her production of Handbagged by Moira Buffini won an Olivier Award for outstanding achievement in an affiliate theatre, before transferring to the West End and Washington DC and embarking on a subsequent UK tour in 2015.

Rubasingham’s production of The Invisible Hand was nominated for an Olivier award for outstanding achievement in an affiliate theatre in 2017 as well as in 2021.

She directed best-selling author Zadie Smith’s debut play The Wife of Willesden at the Kiln in 2021 to critical acclaim – it became the highest-ever grossing show in the theatre’s history and returned to the Kiln in 2022 before transferring to Boston’s ART and New York’s BAM in 2023.

Other highlights include producing Florian Zeller triptych of plays The Father, The Mother and The Son, with both The Father and The Son receiving West End transfers; Blues In The Night; and more recently, Retrograde and the musical Two Strangers. She has recently announced her final season for the company – including two world premieres, and a collaboration with the RSC.

In 2017, Rubasingham was awarded an MBE for services to theatre in the New Year’s honours list and an honorary doctorate from Hull. She has previously held associate director positions at the Gate Theatre, Birmingham Rep and the Young Vic. In 2001, she was awarded the Carlton multi-cultural achievement award for performing arts; and AWA for the Arts in 2012.

Sir Damon Buffini, chair of the National Theatre board said: “Having run Kiln Theatre for over a decade, Indhu has a proven record of strong leadership and artistic success, alongside a commitment to bringing theatre to diverse audiences and broadening access to creative education.

“Throughout the recruitment process Indhu demonstrated to the panel her clear vision for the National Theatre’s next chapter, displaying her passion and commitment to bring the world to the National Theatre and to take the National Theatre to the world.”

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