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Brief Encounter With ... The Tricycle's Indhu Rubasingham

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Indhu Rubasingham's new production of Marie Jones' award-winning comedy Stones in His Pockets opens at the Tricycle Theatre this week (20 December 2011, previews from 15 December).

Rubasingham has enjoyed a long association with the venue, with recent directing credits including the The Great Game: Afghanistan and Women, Power and Politics cycles, as well as Detaining Justice (as part of the Not Black and White season).

Her other directing credits include Ruined at the Almeida Theatre, Disconnect, Free Outgoing, Sugar Mummies, Lift Off and Club Land at the Royal Court, Wuthering Heights for Birmingham Rep, The Waiting Room and Ramayana for the National Theatre and Romeo and Juliet and The Misanthrope at Chichester Festival Theatre.

She will take over from Nicolas Kent as artistic director of the Tricycle in May next year, a position Kent has held for 28 years.

What was your first reaction to getting the job of artistic director?
Surprisingly, I was incredibly excited. And I say that because for years I thought I never wanted to be an artistic director, I enjoyed my freelance life too much, so when I actually got the job I suddenly thought 'why have I never thought about this before?' I was obviously very nervous because Nicolas Kent will leave big shoes to fill, and the financial situation is quite tricky, but I hope I can do it well.

Can you clarify what the financial situation is?
I think it's the same as is being faced by many theatres up and down the country – that is, in the current financial climate and with the funding cuts, in order to deliver a bold, exciting programme one has to find ways of raising money. It's going to be a tough time to do that, and I'm still getting my head around the specifics of the Tricycle, but I certainly have ambitions and I hope I can deliver them.

Considering that Nicolas Kent stepped down in protest at the cuts, are you worried you're inheriting a poisoned chalice?
I think that's too strong a word, but I do think it's going to be hard. Nick's been there 28 years and I think he was frustrated to be in this position, considering how successful the Tricycle has been. What is good at the moment for me is that I've got bags of enthusiasm and energy to fight the fight, because I'm only just beginning the journey.

Artistically speaking, what's your vision for the Tricycle?
I'm not telling! I don't take up my position until May and my programme doesn't start til October, so there's a long time before I start properly. I want to create a programme that is diverse and exciting, showing many different lenses on the world and bringing as many voices to the stage as possible. That's my ambition.

Do you feel you're helping to address a balance in terms of the number of female artistic directors?
I don't think I'm doing anything apart from following an artistic vision. I can only follow my artistic voice and let that speak for itself. I think what's brilliantly exciting about London theatre is the range and quality of its artistic directors, and that's what makes it broad. The important thing is the talent and vision and expertise.

Why did you want to revive Stones in His Pockets?
I worked with Marie Jones on Women, Power and Politics (she wrote one of the plays). It went really well and she approached me to see if I would consider doing a new version of Stones in His Pockets. I asked her why, because it was such a big hit the first time round, and she talked about wanting to get back to the text and get back to the play; with all the hype it had been completely billed as a comedy but there are so many other layers to it, which got a bit lost.

So she wasn't asking me to reproduce the hit, she was asking me to go back to the beginning and re-examine the play, which is much more interesting and fresh. It's a fantastic play and I've really enjoyed rehearsals. It's an absolute pleasure working on the script – one minute it makes you laugh and the next it kicks you in the teeth.

Did you see it the first time round?
I did, I saw it at the Tricycle and absolutely loved it, but that was about ten years ago so it's very hard to remember the specifics. But I do remember having a great night out at the theatre.

Are you making big changes in terms of the staging?
We're not consciously saying 'let's be different', but we are looking at the text with fresh eyes. And because my memory of the original is quite vague, I'm unable to be deliberately different to the original. Plus, one of the cast members has never seen it before so he's also coming at it with a completely open mind.

What are your highlights of working at the Tricycle?
I came here in 1998 as a young director to work on Roy Williams' Starstruck, and that was the beginning of my very happy relationship with the venue. Doing The Great Game was a phenomenal experience, and that was all Nick's idea. At first I thought he was crazy and didn't believe that people would want to sit through nine hours of plays on Afghanistan, but little did I know. To have gone on that journey was a very profound experience; to have taken it to the Pentagon and to perform it to the British army made me realise how theatre can have an impact and play to decision-makers. But that was just one of a number of fantastic productions. What Nick has done in terms of putting the Tricycle on the map is awe-inspiring, and I just hope that I can stand on his shoulders.

Stones in His Pockets, which stars Jamie Beamish and Owen McDonnell, continues at the Tricycle until 4 February. It will run at the Grand Opera House, Belfast, from 23-28 January.


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