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The Tricycle: what’s in a name?

An exciting new era for the Tricycle Theatre quickly turned into a PR disaster when it was announced that the Kilburn arts centre was to be rechristened The Kiln. Dan Carrier reports on the ongoing drama

12 July, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

The Tricycle Theatre has been rechristened The Kiln

FOR a celebrated institute whose very existence is based on communication, you could say it has been an interesting summer for the arts centre that now calls itself the Kiln Theatre.

Usually known for on-stage drama, the focus in recent weeks has been what is going on behind the scenes. As the former Tricycle gears up to reopen its doors in September after a multi-million pound revamp, the Kilburn playhouse and cinema has been at the centre of a thumping row over the adoption of a new moniker.

In April, theatre bosses revealed it would now be known as The Kiln – ditching the Tricycle brand that has made waves internationally for decades – and when the news broke, uproar ensued.

The announcement came as artistic director Indhu Rubasingham unveiled the delights a new season had in store in numerous press interviews. And the programme follows its global reputation for firsts: among the eagerly-anticipated productions to be staged is an adaptation of Zadie Smith’s novel White Teeth, and Holy Sh!t by Alexis Zegerman, which deals with issues over pushy parents scrambling to get their children into the high-achieving primary school of their choice.

Ms Rubasingham spoke of the new season as well as mentioning the name change – but soon found that instead of the focus being on the multi-million pound revamp, or new plays that staff say have brought in record advance sales, the talk among theatregoers has been what the place will be called – and why.

When the new brand was unveiled, a campaign was launched by people in the neighbourhood to save the Tricycle name. They set up a petition, wrote to the press and handed out leaflets.

Lobbying ensued. Questions were asked. Former artistic director Nick Kent added his voice, saying he did not understand why such a well-respected moniker would be cast aside.

The theatre’s new Kiln logo

Adding to this, many felt the media and communications strategy by The Kiln was one of non-engagement and appeared to many to be counter productive.

Review made various requests to the theatre over recent weeks for further information. We asked how they came up with the new name, who they consulted and how, and what was the response? The theatre’s PR firm declined to answer directly and instead referred to a previously released statement made when the new name was announced.

As the row rumbled on, reaching the pages of Private Eye and The Stage, campaigners claim an insider has provided them with information, casting doubt on the thoroughness of the process of choosing the The Kiln to go above the doors.

Last week, Review again approached the theatre with a specific list of questions. As before, no direct answers were forthcoming. Instead, we were cc’d into a letter from the theatre’s management to the Brondesbury Residents’ and Tenants’ Association – a letter the theatre says has the answers to questions people had been asking for weeks.

But this has not quenched the campaigners’ thirst for information, nor quelled dissent.

So how has the spotlight moved from a brilliant renovation of a much-loved building, a stellar new season and what should be an exciting time for the theatre company to what many say is a community relations disaster?

“Our Tricycle, Not Your Kiln” campaign group organiser Martin Fisher says the “name change has failed on its own merits” and told Review there had been “a spontaneous eruption of anger.”

“The people we’ve spoken to directly are not just slightly miffed, they are incredulous, furious and broken-hearted,” he said.

Indhu Rubasingham

“The theatre were not led into this by consultations. What they have done is a cultural ram raid, stealing a landmark from people who paid for it for nearly 40 years, without so much as a nod to them.

In PR terms, this whole affair has been a dog’s breakfast. This has been an abject lesson in how not to conduct a change process. If they had consulted properly before the announcement, they’d have realised there would be no support for the name change.”

The theatre has since revealed in the letter to the BRTA how they asked people for views – but it hasn’t silenced those who want to keep the Trike name alive. Mr Fisher claimed: “They won’t tell us what questions were asked, they won’t tell us how many responded and they won’t tell us what answers were given.”

To date, Review has been unable to verify these allegations.

“We didn’t expect everyone to like the name, but we have been dismayed to see people who claim they love this theatre attempt to rally people against it,” wrote theatre managers to the BRTA, adding:

“We can’t help noticing that some supporters of the campaign have not actually attended our theatre or cinema for several years.”

The letter points out that other theatres have taken on new names, citing among others the Cottesloe becoming the Dorfman at The National.

And theatre managers further explained what consultation had taken place, adding: “We set out at the start to consult members of the community, stakeholders and ticket buyers, though as a registered charity – and not a government body – we have no obligation to. These discussions took place in various forms over an eight-month period.”

They added it included an electronic survey to more than 4,000 previous customers that garnered 300 replies, a street survey of 65 people, and consultation with more than 40 “stakeholders”, including staff, donors, playwrights, actors, producers and directors.

“This comprehensive process of rebranding, repositioning and reopening led us to the decision to rename the theatre,” they added.

“We are sorry our new name doesn’t please everyone,” a theatre statement continued, “we’ve had an over­whelmingly warm response from donors and supporters, from the theatre world and people in Kilburn.”

But clearly not from many others who have put their names to the currently 5,000-strong petition. For some, it will always be the Trike – and the gulf between the Kiln’s management and swathes of people who feel a great sense of passion and ownership towards the theatre has yet to be bridged. It seems this drama has more acts to come.

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