National Theatre. Indhu Rubasingham (Photo by Antonio Olmos)

Indhu Rubasingham as new head of the National Theatre – Industry reactions

It was announced early this morning that director Indhu Rubasingham has been appointed as the new artistic director – and Co-Chief Executive – of the National Theatre.

Currently artistic director of the Kiln Theatre, she takes up the post in Spring 2024, working alongside current artistic director Rufus Norris until he leaves in Spring 2025.

Indhu Rubasingham is the first woman to lead the National, and the first person of colour, so her appointment feels like an especially watershed moment for British theatre.

She will work alongside current National Theatre executive Kate Varah, who will become Co-Chief Executive, so two women will be leading Britain’s primary theatrical institution.

The reaction from theatre critics, writers and theatre industry practitioners to Rubasingham’s appointment has been hugely positive.

Arifa Akbar, Chief Theatre Critic of the Guardian, said in a piece that “Indhu Rubasingham is the perfect choice for the National Theatre” and that “she will bring experience, passion, canny ability – and the magnificently unexpected – to her new post”.

Also in the Guardian, Brian Logan wrote about the challenges facing Indhu and artistic directors in the UK, “There’s the excitement that comes with a new vision at the top – along with the comfort of having the time-honoured way of doing things re-endorsed. But that comfort feels compromised this time around. Cast your gaze beyond the National, and the artistic director looks like an endangered species.”

Finally in the Guardian, David Jays said: “The theatre world has responded to her appointment with unfeigned delight and a reflection that it’s about bloody time… Women currently lead many prominent theatres: among them, Michelle Terry at Shakespeare’s Globe, Nancy Medina at Bristol Old Vic and Rachel O’Riordan (reportedly shortlisted for the National job) at the Lyric Hammersmith. But Rubasingham moving from the highly regarded Kiln theatre to the big seat at the National is a statement of intent for the entire industry.”

Clive Davis, Chief Theatre Critic of the Times, said in his weekly newsletter that, “Indhu Rubasingham’s name has been on so many lips in the past few months that the announcement that she is taking over at the helm of the National Theatre almost comes as an anti-climax. But this is still a landmark event, a recognition of the changing face of British theatre.”

Erica Whyman, director and former acting artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, said: “At last some properly good news. Totally made up for Indhu, and for British Theatre. She’s going to be brilliant.”

Actor Imelda Staunton, who stars as The Queen in The Crown and is about to star on stage in Hello, Dolly! at the London Palladium, told BBC’s Women’s Hour on Radio 4 that, “I’m over the moon, she is the right person for the job, not because she is a woman or a person of colour…she has turned the Kiln Theatre around and this couldn’t happen to a better candidate.”

Dominic Cavendish, Chief Theatre Critic of the Telegraph, said: “Rubasingham must bang the drum loudly for theatre per se and her building in particular – and the challenges in terms of costs, and recruiting the brightest and best, will be formidable. She will need all her charm, and programming nous, to balance the books, keep audiences, artists and Arts Council England alike onside”, and that, “This is a watershed moment, upon which the successful future of the NT rests. It cannot be squandered.”

Jessie Thompson, Arts Editor of The Independent, said in an opinion piece that: “With her vision and bold decision-making for the Kiln, Rubasingham showed her mettle. It suggests that she will do things her way at the National, even if it ruffles feathers – and that’s exactly why she’s the right person for the job. She’s a director who loves to be in the rehearsal room, but she’s also a brave leader prepared to shoulder private anxieties for the sake of moving theatre forward.”

Playwright James Graham, whose play Dear England is currently running at the West End’s Prince Edward Theatre, said: “Of all the rightful excitement for a new era at the National, it’s a personal thrill to see a fellow Mansfield kid smash through glass ceilings. The Red Wall’s not just problems to fix – it produces cultural powerhouses like Indhu! Viva la East Midlands.”

Alistair Smith, Editor of The Stage newspaper, said that, “Indhu Rubasingham will be a fine choice for the National Theatre, if given time, and that, “Rubasingham has been chosen entirely – and deservedly – on her own merits, but there is also no getting away from the fact that the decision is especially significant because she is both the first woman and the first person of colour to run the National Theatre in its 60-year history: two firsts that many would argue are well overdue. This may give her a slightly extended honeymoon period in the role – something she is likely to need.”

Journalist and critic Anya Ryan said: “The best possible news. @IRubasingham is a kind, compassionate leader, as well as a great talent. This feels like the beginning of something very exciting.”

Fiona Mountford, theatre critic of the i Newspaper, said: “One thing was abundantly clear long before the starting gun was ever fired on this race: what the National absolutely could not do was offer the job to yet another white man”. She goes on to say that, “the brutal truth is that, after the funding hit of Covid, as well as our diminishing landscape of public subsidy, theatres are required to generate ever more of their income through ticket sales alone.Confronting this will be the major challenge that awaits Rubasingham, when she at last takes up residence in the office that always had her name on it.”

Sarah Crompton, Critic of Whatsonstage, said in an opinion piece: “It really does feel like a new beginning, and there is universal pleasure that someone who patently has the qualities to lead the National Theatre into its next 60 years, has actually been given the job.”

Theatre critic Susannah Clapp said in her weekly reviews column in The Observer that: “It is very good news. Indhu Rubasingham takes over as artistic director of the National in 2025. That must be welcomed not only for who she is – the first woman or person of colour to run the country’s biggest theatre – but for what she has done, and will do… Remember when “an eye for detail” was code for “female” in job ads? Forget it: Rubasingham thinks big – helping to make the theatre a place not merely of representation but of leaps in empathy.”

Sir Damon Buffini, Chair of the National Theatre Board said in a statement put out by the National that: “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.”

Andrzej Łukowski, Chief Theatre Critic for TimeOut London said on Twitter in reaction to the news: “OMG HOLY SHITBALLS CONGRATS”.!

Telegraph commissioning editor Ben Lawrence kindly wrote Indhu a “10-point plan to make the National Theatre great again” and said that “Rubasingham and her chief executive Kate Varah are going to have their work cut out.”

Actor Indira Varma, who is currently starring in Macbeth alongside Ralph Fiennes, said: “Indhu Rhubasingham’s appointment as director at @nationaltheatre is choking me up with emotion. Such exciting news, such a great director and person.”

Actor Cush Jumbo, also currently starring in Macbeth – this time with David Tennant, said, intriguingly: “YES. YES. F-ing YES. There was one name I REALLY wanted to see get this job and one name I REALLY didn’t… It’s a CHRISTMAS MIRACLE! Congratulations @indhurubasingham and @nationaltheatre”.

More reactions to follow

Read more about Indhu Rubasingham’s appointment

📷 Main photo: National Theatre. Indhu Rubasingham (Photo by Antonio Olmos)

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