I grew up just off the Kilburn High Road and remember the day the Tricycle Theatre opened on the site of an old dance hall, Forester’s Hall, in 1980. I remember passing it on a slow-moving bus on the morning of 21st May 1987 when smoke billowed from it and the street was packed with fire engines; at school that day I could talk about nothing else.
My sister and her friend the actress Jenny Jules, both schoolgirls girls at the nearby Convent of Jesus & Mary, helped to set up the Tricycle Youth Theatre along with Antonia Couling, a former Editor of The Singer magazine and Deputy Editor of Opera Now. The TYT presented the premiers of Noel Gay’s Rainbow’s Ending and Do We Ever See Grace? at the Trike (as it was affectionately known) in 1984 and 1985 respectively. Unable to afford a babysitter I would be packed off to watch rehearsals and made to promise not to tell anyone about the illicit cigarettes the young cast would smoke backstage. Jenny would slip me a Cadbury’s Creme Egg, or sometimes a pork pie, to ensure my silence. My sister and Jenny would work the box office or Front of House in their free time and slip me in to any free seats. I saw the first production of Return to the Forbidden Planet there, Stiles & Drewes’ Just So and many plays I was too young to understand presented by Talawa and the Black Theatre Co-Operative and the Market Theatre of Johannesburg. I joined the junior Youth Theatre and learned circus skills from Matthew Kelly.
The Tricycle was the first theatre I learned to call home. It was my youth club and my training ground. My parents would happily leave me there in the care of one of the backstage staff while they shopped the Kilburn High Road on a Saturday morning. A couple of doors down was a music store and I would nip between the Tricycle and the music store, trying the instruments, flicking through the sheet music. I bought my first selection of songs – The Sound of Music song book – there and Antonia would play through them for me in between writing music for the Youth Theatre’s plays or for her own band. The Tricycle was full of the coolest people I’ had ever met and I was in awe of them.
I’ve returned many times to the Tricycle in the last thirty years and it still feels like coming home.
Do I care about the change of name from Tricycle to Kiln? Do I buggery. The name, even at 7 years old, always felt quaintly old-fashioned and twee. The Trike was anarchic, grubby, and dangerous. It seemed ever-changing and challenging in its programming. Even at a young age I could feel the politics of the place and how it seemed to reflect the messy, shifting, multi-cultural vibe of the streets I played in, got mugged in, fell in love on, and knew like the back of my hand. The Trike was never a slave to the past, it was always adventurous and forward-thinking, producing work that no-one else dared to. And what’s in a name? Sure, Indhu Rubasingham and the Board of the Tricycle can talk about the new name, Kiln, in terms of it as “a space of transformation, heat, energy and forging” but this has always been its essence. The name doesn’t matter – the spirit of the place lives on regardless and that is, surely, the greatest way to honour its rich history.