The Almeida Theatre, opened in 1980, is a 325-seat studio theatre with an international reputation, which takes its name from the street on which it is located, off Upper Street, in the London Borough of Islington. The theatre produces a diverse range of drama. Successful plays are often transferred to West End theatres.
1833: Islington Literary and Scientific Society
1875: Wellington Club
Almeida Theatre in June 2011
|Owner||Almeida Theatre trust|
|Designation||Grade II listed|
|Capacity||325, over two levels|
|Opened||1833 (as reading rooms)|
|Rebuilt||1982 (as theatre)|
|Architect||Roumieu and Gough|
The theatre was built in 1837 for the newly formed Islington Literary and Scientific Society and included a library, reading room, museum, laboratory, and a lecture theatre seating 500. The architects were the fashionable partnership of Robert Lewis Roumieu and Alexander Dick Gough. The library was sold off in 1872 and the building disposed of in 1874 to the Wellington Club (Almeida Street then being called Wellington Street) which occupied it until 1886. In 1885 the hall was used for concerts, balls, and public meetings. The Salvation Army bought the building in 1890, renaming it the Wellington Castle Barracks (Wellington Castle Citadel from 1902). To suit the building's new purpose, the front-facing lecture hall's tiered benches were replaced so that the congregation was seated in the conventional position, facing away from the front, and a balcony added. The Salvationists remained there until 1955. For a few years from 1956 the building was a factory and showroom for Beck's British Carnival Novelties, then remained empty until in 1972 a campaign began to turn it into a theatre.
The campaign to open the building as a theatre was led by the Lebanese-born internationally renowned opera and theatre director Pierre Audi, after he had acquired the derelict building in 1972. A public appeal was launched and in 1980, with the building renovated, the theatre opened with a festival of avant-garde theatre and music, held both there and at other Islington venues, with Audi as the Artistic Director.
Under Audi the theatre's reputation grew and its annual summer International Festival of Contemporary Music and Performance became highly regarded. In the summer of 1985 Ástor Piazzolla, the renowned Argentine tango composer and bandoneón player, made a week-long appearance with his Quinteto Nuevo Tango. Peter Greenaway's 1983 series of films for Channel 4 Four American Composers featured Almeida presentations of works by Robert Ashley, John Cage, and Philip Glass and a Dance Umbrella presentation of Turtle Dreams by Meredith Monk.
The Almeida housed a producing company which commissioned and staged several theatre works and operas and was a London "receiving house" for Fringe, avant-garde and regional theatre productions. Touring companies from the UK were regularly hosted, including Shared Experience, Joint Stock, Theatre Complicite, Cheek by Jowl and the Leicester Haymarket, alongside international guest companies from the Philippines, Tibet, Israel, Ireland and Czechoslovakia. The Festival included contemporary music and performance presentations from continental Europe, Russia, North America, Japan, Argentina, and Morocco. Among the dozens of stage directors, composers, musicians and ensembles featured were Yuri Lyubimov, Robert Wilson, Robert Lepage, Phelim McDermott, Julia Bardsley, Deborah Warner, Simon McBurney, Annabel Arden, Yvar Mikhashoff, Michael Finnissy, Wolfgang Rihm, Claude Vivier, Gerald Barry, Steve Reich, Lou Harrison, Conlon Nancarrow, Virgil Thomson, Arvo Pärt, Somei Satoh, Akio Suzuki, Takehisa Kosugi, Toru Takemitsu, Jo Kondo, Sylvano Bussotti, Giacinto Scelsi, Alfred Schnittke, Luis de Pablo, Capricorn, Spectrum, Music Projects/London, Singcircle, the Arditti Quartet, and the London Sinfonietta.
Peter Brook's Bouffes du Nord company played there in 1982 (Brook's company had been one of Audi's original influences for the project), and Ronald Harwood's documentary drama, The Deliberate Death of a Polish Priest premiered at the Almeida in October 1985, an early example of a transcript of a trial of the political murderers of Father Jerzy Popiełuszko. In 1987, the Almeida also became home to Motley Theatre Design Course, under the directorship of Margaret Harris.
The Not the RSC Festival was presented at the Almeida in 1986 and 1987.
Work by major playwrights, old and new, British and foreign was staged and the theatre acquired an artistic reputation comparable to the leading theatres in central London and, as noted by playwright David Hare, "it reinvented the European repertoire for London audiences and made British theatre more cosmopolitan and outward going". Organised as a non-profit producing theatre its productions regularly played to packed houses and frequently transferred to the West End (14 between 1990 and 2002) and to Broadway.
In 1993 the theatre won the Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre.
One of the keys to the success and reputation of the Almeida during the 1990s were the stagings of various plays by Harold Pinter. These included revivals of Betrayal in 1991 and No Man's Land in 1992 and premières of Party Time in 1991 and Moonlight in 1993.
During their time at the theatre, McDiarmid and Kent were described by The Guardian as "[making] Islington a centre of enlightened internationalism"; and, as they were about to leave their positions in 2002, Michael Billington, in same newspaper, summed up their achievements as threefold:
Three things have made the Almeida the most exciting theatre in Britain. First, an eclectically international programme: everything from Molière and Marivaux to Brecht and Neil LaBute. Second, top-level casting that has given us Ralph Fiennes in Hamlet and Ivanov, Kevin Spacey in The Iceman Cometh and Juliette Binoche in Naked. Third, a territorial expansion that has seen the Almeida colonise the Hackney Empire, the old Gainsborough film studios and even a converted bus depot in King's Cross".
1999 to present
In November 1999, the Almeida was awarded £1.5 million by the Arts Council of England to undertake essential repairs to the theatre. The work began early in 2001 when the theatre was closed, and the company moved temporarily to a converted bus station at King's Cross. National Lottery backing of £5.8 million allowed for a complete restoration.
The restoration included rebuilding and extending the foyer, installing more comfortable seating and access, plus better backstage facilities with the stage area re-built for flexibility and strength, the roof improved and insulated, the lighting grid strengthened, complete re-wiring, and technical equipment updated. Michael Attenborough took over as artistic director in 2002 and, following the completion of its restoration, the theatre was re-opened in May 2003 with a production of Ibsen's The Lady from the Sea, directed by Trevor Nunn. The theatre's artistic remit was the presentation of bold and adventurous play choices staged to the highest possible standards, in productions which revealed them in a new light. This included classics from the British, American and Irish repertoire, foreign classics in newly commissioned versions, and new plays. In October 2012 Attenborough announced that he would step down early in 2013.
Rupert Goold was appointed Artistic Director in February 2013, taking up the post full-time in September 2013. His association with the Almeida Theatre Company began in 2008 when he directed Stephen Adly Guirgis' The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. In 2013 his Headlong theatre company co-produced the premiere of Lucy Kirkwood's Chimerica, directed by Lyndsey Turner, at the Almeida: the show subsequently transferred to the West End, winning five Olivier Awards in 2014. Goold's first Almeida production as full-time artistic director was the world premiere production of American Psycho: A new musical thriller (initially programmed by Michael Attenborough), which ran from 3 December 2013 to 1 February 2014. In 2014 he directed the premiere of Mike Bartlett's play King Charles III, which, following its sold-out run at the Almeida, transferred to Wyndham's Theatre and Broadway.
Almeida Projects is the Almeida Theatre's education and community programme. It was founded in its current form in 2003 by Rebecca Manson Jones, after Michael Attenborough's appointment as artistic director. Almeida Projects activity includes durational residencies with partner schools, a subsidised ticket scheme for school groups visiting the theatre, productions of new plays for young people inspired by the main programme, the Young Friends of the Almeida scheme, social networking Teachers' Evenings for local performing arts teachers and a training programme for workshop leaders.
Almeida Projects works closely with nine partner schools in Islington: Central Foundation Boys' School, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School, Highbury Fields School, Highbury Grove School, Islington Arts and Media School, Mount Carmel Catholic College for Girls, The Bridge School and City and Islington College. The Young Friends of the Almeida Theatre scheme was established in May 2008 to enable local young people to take part in activities outside of school. It currently has over 700 members and includes the Young Friends of the Almeida Creative Board, composed of young people who take an active role in planning and promoting all Young Friends activities.
The Almeida was one of the launch theatres for Digital Theatre, a project which makes theatre productions available in video download form. The first performance that was filmed was 'Parlour Song'.
- Cage at 70: a concert series featuring works by John Cage including Roaratorio'based on Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, Almeida Festival at the St James's Church Chillingworth Road N7 (1982)
- The Possessed adapted from the novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, directed by Yuri Lyubimov, music by Alfred Schnittke, design by Stefanos Lazaridis, starring Nigel Terry, Clive Merrison, Harriet Walter, and Michael Feast, co-produced with the Théâtre de l'Europe in Paris; tour to the Piccolo Teatro in Milan and the Teatro Comunale di Bologna (1985)
- Kopernikus: opera by Claude Vivier, directed by Pierre Audi (1985)
- At the Tomb of Charles Ives: a concert series featuring world, UK and local premieres of works by Charles Ives, Conlon Nancarrow, Morton Feldman, Virgil Thomson, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Lou Harrison, Frederic Rzewski, Elliott Carter, and others, Almeida Festival (1985)
- Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen, adapted and directed by Richard Eyre, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Eve Best (2005)
- Stephen Dillane's Macbeth by William Shakespeare, directed by Travis Preston (2005-2010)
- Dying for It by Moira Buffini after Erdman, directed by Anna Mackmin (2007)
- Cloud Nine by Caryl Churchill, directed by Thea Sharrock, starring Tobias Menzies and Nicola Walker (2007)
- The Last Days of Judas Iscariot by Stephen Adly Guirgis, directed by Rupert Goold, co-production with Headlong (2008)
- Rosmersholm by Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Mike Poulton, directed by Anthony Page, starring Helen McCrory (2008)
- Waste by Harley Granville Barker, directed by Samuel West (2008)
- Parlour Song by Jez Butterworth, directed by Ian Rickson, starring Toby Jones (2009)
- When the Rain Stops Falling by Andrew Bovell, directed by Michael Attenborough (2009)
- Rope by Patrick Hamilton (produced in association with Sonia Friedman Production), directed by Roger Michell, starring Bertie Carvel and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (2009)
- Through a Glass Darkly by Ingmar Bergman, adapted by Jenny Worton, directed by Michael Attenborough (2010)
- The Master Builder by Henrik Ibsen in translation by Kenneth McLeish, directed by Travis Preston, starring Gemma Arterton, Stephen Dillane and John Light (2011)
- The Knot of the Heart by David Eldridge, directed by Michael Attenborough, starring Sophie Stanton (2011)
- My City written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff (2011)
- The House of Bernarda Alba by Federico García Lorca, adapted by Emily Mann, directed by Bijan Sheibani (2012)
- Children's Children by Matthew Dunster, directed by Jeremy Herrin (2012)
- Filumena by Eduardo De Filippo, adapted by Tanya Ronder, directed by Michael Attenborough (2012)
- King Lear by William Shakespeare, directed by Michael Attenborough, starring Jonathan Pryce (2012)
- Chimerica by Lucy Kirkwood, directed by Lyndsey Turner, starring Stephen Campbell Moore (2013)
- Little on the Inside by Alice Birch, directed by Lucy Morrison (2013)
- Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen, adapted and directed by Richard Eyre (2013)
- American Psycho: a new musical thriller, directed by Rupert Goold, starring Matt Smith (2013)
- 1984 by George Orwell, adapted by Duncan MacMillan and Robert Icke, directed by Robert Icke (2014)
- King Charles III by Mike Bartlett, directed by Rupert Goold, starring Tim Pigott-Smith (2014)
- Mr Burns: A Post-Electric Play by Anne Washburn, directed by Robert Icke (2014)
- Little Revolution by Alecky Blythe, directed by Joe Hill-Gibbins (2014)
- The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare, directed by Rupert Goold (2014)
- Game by Mike Bartlett, directed by Sacha Wares (2015)
- Carmen Disruption by Simon Stephens, directed by Michael Longhurst, starring Noma Dumezweni (2015)
- Oresteia by Aeschylus, adapted and directed by Robert Icke, starring Lia Williams and Jessica Brown Findlay (2015)
- Bakkhai by Euripides, directed by James MacDonald, starring Ben Whishaw (2015)
- Medea by Euripides, directed by Rupert Goold, starring Kate Fleetwood (2015)
- Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov, adapted and directed by Robert Icke, starring Jessica Brown Findlay and Tobias Menzies (2016)
- Richard III by William Shakespeare, directed by Rupert Goold, starring Ralph Fiennes and Vanessa Redgrave (2016)
- Oil by Ella Hickson, directed by Carrie Cracknell (2016)
- Mary Stuart by Friedrich Schiller, adapted and directed by Robert Icke, starring Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams, music by Laura Marling (2016)
- Hamlet by William Shakespeare, directed by Robert Icke, starring Andrew Scott, Jessica Brown Findlay and Juliet Stevenson (2017)
- The Treatment by Martin Crimp, directed by Lyndsey Turner, starring Indira Varma, Julian Ovenden, Gary Beadle, Matthew Needham (2017)
- Ink by James Graham, directed by Rupert Goold, starring Bertie Carvel (2017)
- Against by Christopher Shinn, directed by Ian Rickson, starring Ben Whishaw (2017)
- Albion by Mike Bartlett, directed by Rupert Goold, starring Victoria Hamilton (2017)
- The Twilight Zone based on stories by Rod Serling, Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson, adapted by Anne Washburn, directed by Richard Jones (2017)
- Summer and Smoke by Tennessee Williams, directed by Rebecca Frecknall, starring Patsy Ferran and Matthew Needham (2018)
- The Writer by Ella Hickson, directed by Blanche McIntyre, starring Romola Garai and Samuel West (2018)
- Machinal by Sophie Treadwell, directed by Natalie Abrahami, starring Emily Berrington and Denise Black (2018)
- Dance Nation by Clare Barron, directed by Bijan Sheibani, starring Brendan Cowell and Sarah Hadland (2018)
- The Wild Duck by Henrik Ibsen, directed by Robert Icke, starring Nicholas Farrell and Lyndsey Marshal (2018)
- The Tragedy of King Richard the Second by William Shakespeare, directed by Joe Hill-Gibbins, starring Simon Russell Beale and Leo Bill (2018)
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