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Kiln Theatre: why the north London theatre rebrand is cause for celebration

Indhu Rubasingham

Indhu Rubasingham

The Tricycle is no more: earlier this year Indhu Rubasingham relaunched it as the Kiln theatre.

Before going any further, let’s nail this idea that Kiln Theatre is a mistake. It’s a dangerous half-truth which seriously underestimates artistic director Rubhasingham. So it should be pointed out as a matter of urgency, that it is not the end of the world.

This week, though, former artistic directors and board members of the north London Theatre, are urging the venue to revert to its previous name, the title it held for 38 years.

In a letter to The Observer 15 people signed a letter in the Observer criticising the decision. The list includes all three previous chairs of the board – Andree Molyneux, Patricia Macnaughton and Stephen Phillips – as well as the theatre’s original architect Tim Foster, and others.

In the letter, they say: “The Tricycle was a landmark in London, and a brand locally, nationally and internationally. In our view this change of name throws away a valuable legacy and history.”

I’m kind of over this obsessive and credibility-destroying campaign. Yes, renaming Tricycle Theatre has misfired. But it is the opposite of an attempt at demolishing an old identity.

Understood? Good. Then let’s proceed in an open-minded fashion with the Trike, the focus group years, where there is a £7 million capital development programme, not dissimilar programming to before and a new name: Kiln Theatre.

A Kiln Theatre spokesperson said “Theatre is not, and never has been, primarily about preserving a legacy. Theatre by its nature is ephemeral and impermanent, it’s about reflecting the world around us, provocation, and ultimately change. We are representing the theatre for today as we embark on the next stage of the company’s story in the newly refurbished building we have worked incredibly hard to deliver over the past five years, and one that we are futureproofing for the next generation.”

Elsewhere, Michael Billington also put the boot in this week. Writing in The Guardian, he says: “Even the restructuring of the building is no reason for changing the name. In recent memory both the Bush theatre in Shepherd’s Bush and the Orange Tree in Richmond have moved from spartan rooms above pubs into more spacious premises, but they retained their original names.”

Thank God, then, for Jim Carter and Imelda Staunton who sent a letter into The Guardian urging ‘everyone who professes to have loved the Tricycle’ to support its new name and its artistic director’

I asked a few people for their thoughts on the debacle. Slung Low’s Alan Lane said: “I have some sympathy with Kiln. We’ve a small group of men in Holbeck who when ever they get the chance denounce us as communists and sodomites and all sorts of things. The criticism is occasionally aimed at us by others that we haven’t brought the whole community with us. And of course we havent. I don’t care what the place is called and I’m bored of this little cabal of dickheads who keep theatre stuck in this dreary relationship with the past and with money and with community. We’re meant to be the dangerous art.” Amazing.

Inside Kiln Theatre’s revamped auditorium

Inside Kiln Theatre’s revamped auditorium

On the other side of the fence is critic Dominic Cavendish: “I can’t quite see the point in the name-change, you need innovation and continuity when you effect a major exercise in rebranding. As someone who writes for the Telegraph, I’m fairly used to the anachronism of the ‘title’ I work for – and for some the name itself might suggest a newspaper that hasn’t kept pace with modern technology; but even if there are things a paper, or a theatre, can do to widen its appeal and demographic, I think there’s something self-defeating about a name change; all theatres are built on legacies; unless those legacies are completely toxic, embrace the ghosts of years gone by! The Tricycle programme as was is, incidentally, nothing any artistic director should feel the need to disown, which some might infer is the subtext.”

On the surface the rebrand has misfired badly and people have lined up to throw bricks at the decision, but I think it’s just cosmetic. Which seems like a shame. If we ever needed someone to shake up a staid theatre industry, it’s now.

Cynics be damned – there’s an uncomplicated reason why Indhu Rubhasingham has had so many hits and secured a £7 million facelift for the building. It’s that people like really good theatre, and she makes it happen.

Kiln Theatre is a cause for celebration, a new era – and it’s exactly what 2018 needs.

Give her a break, folks.