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UK's National Theatre appoints Indhu Rubasingham as first female artistic director

Indhu Rubasingham, Director Designate, National Theatre
Indhu Rubasingham, Director Designate, National Theatre Copyright Antonio Olmos
Copyright Antonio Olmos
By Jonny Walfisz
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Indhu Rubasingham will replace Britain's National Theatre's current artistic director Rufus Norris when he stands down in 2025.

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Indhu Rubasingham has been appointed as the new Director of the UK’s National Theatre. She will succeed current Director and Chief Executive Rufus Norris in 2025, who has served two terms in the role, starting in 2015.

Rubasingham is an inspired pick as director of Britain’s most prominent publicly funded theatre venue. She is the first woman and person of colour in the role, first founded by the legendary actor Laurence Olivier. She comes from a decade-long stint as artistic director of the Kiln Theatre, in north London.

She first took on the artistic director role in 2012 and oversaw massive renovations to the Kilburn-based theatre as well as a rebrand from the Tricycle Theatre to the Kiln.

Under her guidance, the Kiln has punched far above its weight and brought some of the most exciting theatre to London over the past 11 years. In her first year, the Kiln premiered Red Velvet by Lolita Chakrabarti, a biographic play about 19th century Black American-born British actor Ira Aldridge.

Sir Damon Buffini, Chair, Indhu Rubasingham, Director Designate, and Kate Varah, Executive Director, National Theatre.
Sir Damon Buffini, Chair, Indhu Rubasingham, Director Designate, and Kate Varah, Executive Director, National Theatre.Antonio Olmos/The National Thetare

Rubasingham programmed the UK debuts of Florian Zeller’s Family Trilogy, including The Father, which was later adapted into an Academy Award-nominated film starring Anthony Hopkins.

Most recently, Rubasingham commissioned acclaimed British writer Zadie Smith to write her first play, the wildly popular The Wife of Willesden, and Ryan Calais-Cameron’s Retrograde, a play about actor Sidney Poitier’s early career contract negotiations. Both plays – from Smith’s continued interrogation of life in the Kilburn area to Calais-Cameron’s historical account of racism in the performing arts – show off Rubasingham’s knack for programming plays of both high quality and contemporary relevance.

Inform, educate and entertain

At the National Theatre itself, Rubasingham has directed multiple plays already, notably the recent excellent production of Anupama Chandrasekhar’s The Father and the Assassin, a biopic of Nathuram Godse, the man who murdered Gandhi. The Father and the Assassin is the exact kind of play the National Theatre should be programming in its role as a publicly funded theatre. It both educated about Britain’s role in the partition of India as well as held up a mirror to British society through the violence of nationalistic urges Godse parrots.

The Father and The Assassin (2023, Olivier Theatre)
The Father and The Assassin (2023, Olivier Theatre)Marc Brenner

“It’s a huge honour to be appointed Director of the National Theatre – for me, this is the best job in the world,” Rubasingham said.

“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.”

When he leaves, current director Norris will have spent 10 years at the National Theatre. He’s had a competent run in the top job, programming works by Annie Baker, Tony Kushner and Helen Edmundson's adaptation of Andrea Levy's book Small Island, as well as overseeing the theatre’s survival through the Covid-19 pandemic.

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