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The Almeida Theatre, opened in 1980, is a 325 seat studio theatre with an international reputation which takes its name from the street in which it is located, off Upper Streetmarker, in the London Borough of Islingtonmarker. The theatre produces a diverse range of drama and holds an annual summer festival of contemporary opera, music and theatre. Successful plays are often transferred to West End theatresmarker.

Early history

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 was then 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 building was Grade II listed by English Heritage in 1972. The current modified building retains the listing.

Foundation of the 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 (now known as Almeida Opera) became highly regarded. In the summer of 1985 Astor Piazzolla, the renowned Argentinemarker tango composer and bandoneón player, made a week long appearance with his Quinteto Tango Nuevo.

Throughout the 1980s the Almeida Theatre was a London 'receiving house' for Fringe, avant-garde and provincial theatre productions. Touring companies from the UK and abroad were regularly hosted, including Shared Experience, Joint Stock, Theatre Complicite, Cheek by Jowl and the Leicester Haymarketmarker.

Peter Brook's Bouffes du Nordmarker company played there in 1982, 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 Popieluszko.

The Royal Shakespeare Company brought its smaller-scale autumn London seasons to the Almeida in both 1988 and 1989.

The Almeida in the 1990s

It first became a producing theatre in 1990 when the Scot Ian McDiarmid and the South African Jonathan Kent took over as joint artistic directors with the intention of making the Almeida a centre of theatrical excellence.

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 Endmarker (14 between 1990 and 2002) and to Broadwaymarker.

In 1993 the theatre won the Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in 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 Empiremarker, the old Gainsborough film studios and even a converted bus depot in King's Cross".

In Audi's tradition, "Almeida Opera" continues as an annual season of modern opera, usually held in July.

Refurbishment, 2001-2002

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.

Artistic directors

  • Pierre Audi, (1979–1989)
  • Jonathan Kent and Ian McDiarmid, (1990–2002)
  • Michael Attenborough, (2002–)

Almeida Theatre productions under Pierre Audi’s artistic direction 1981-1989

The bracketed numerals against each entry refer to the relevant Theatre Record page numbers


  • A Dybbuk for Two People 6-7 June 1982 (297)
  • L’Os (The Bone) by Birago Dilip (Bouffes du Nord) 20-31 October 1982 (582)
  • Venice Preserv'd by Thomas Otway 3-21 November 1982 (610)
  • The Insomniac in Morgue Drawer 9 by Andy Smith (Shared Experience) 24 November -5 December 1982 (659)
  • One Man, Steven Berkoff 2-5 December 1982 (??)

  • Fen by Caryl Churchill (Joint Stock) 16 February-12 March 1983 (111)
  • Ariadne’s Afternoon, devised by Natalie Morgan 19-30 April 1983 (293)
  • Courts Circuits/Le Blouses (Le Compagnie Jerome Deschamp) 9-19 May 1983 (357)
  • Yum Yum (Bloolips) 31 May-4 June 1983 (425)
  • The Crimes of Vautrin by Nicholas Wright from Balzac (Joint Stock) 23 June-16 July 1983 (492)
  • Put It On Your Head (Theatre Complicite) 26 September-1 October 1983 (841)
  • Odds’n’Sods (Bloolips) 11-22 October 1983 (877)



  • The Story of the Eye and the Tooth (El-Hakawati Theatre Co) 2-18 January 1986 (5)
  • Three Storeys and a Dark Cellar (IOU Theatre) 6-11 February 1986 (118)
  • The Saxon Shore by David Rudkin, 27 February- 22 March 1986 (205)
  • Milva Sings Brecht, Italian Chanteuse, 25-29 March 1986 (287)
  • People Show No 91 A Romance (revival) 2-19 April 1986 (326)
  • The Merchant of Venice (Leicester Haymarketmarker) 22-29 April 1986 (416)
  • Baal, Christopher Logue translation of Brecht, 30 April-6 May 1986 (462)
  • The Phoney Physician, Jack Laskowski version of Molière, 7-10 May 1986 (503)
  • Creditors by August Strindberg, 19 May-7 June 1986 (527)
  • Dybbuk, revival, 16 July-2 August 1986 (772)
  • Not the RSC 2: Two weeks of work by RSC members, 5-17 August 1986
  • Coriolanus (Kick Theatre) 18 September- 11 October 1986 (1006)
  • Supper Goodnight with:Carthage (Akademia Ruchu, Lublin) 14-18 October 1986 (1133)
  • Gaudete, Julia Bardsley and Phelim McDermott adapted by Ted Hughes, 28 October-15 November 1986 (1191)
  • The Great Hunger by Tom MacIntyre from Patrick Kavanagh, 25 November-13 December 1986 (1313)
  • The King and the Corpse (Indian Folk Tales, Not the RSC) 16 December 1986-3 January 1987 (1393)

  • Losing Venice by John Clifford (Traverse Company) 6-17 January 1987 (6)
  • Panata Sa Kalayaan (Philippine Education Theatre Association) 27-31 January 1987 (90)
  • Kathie and the Hippopotamus by Mario Vargas Llosa 26 February-21 March 1987 (233)
  • The Tourist Guide by Botho Strauss, 8 April-2 May 1987 (429)
  • Mystere Bouffe (Le Theatre du Radeau, France) 5-16 May, 1987 (538)
  • Tattoo Theatre by Mladen Materic (Tetovirano Company) 29 September-17 October 1987 (1259)
  • Hamletmachine by Heiner Muller, adapted by Robert Wilson, 4-14 November 1987 (1415)
  • Nana by Olwen Wymark, based on Zola (Shared Experience) 18 November-5 December 1987 (1480)
  • The Traveller by Jean-Claude van Itallie (Leicester Haymarketmarker) 9 December 1987-9 January 1988 (1586)

  • The Prophet devised by Renu Setna (Carib Theatre Productions) 13-23 January 1988 (240)
  • Venus and Lucrece by Bardy Thomas from Shakespeare, 27 January-20 February 1988 (92)
  • The Possibilities, short plays by Howard Barker, 25 February-19 March 1988 (230)
  • The Story of Ku Ur Shamma by J Lubeck and Abu Salem, 29 March-16 April 1988 (405)
  • Moon on a Rainbow Shawl by Errol John, 5 May-4 June 1988 (581)
  • Hello and Goodbye by Athol Fugard (RSC) 5 August-27 September 1988 (1044)
  • Keeping Tom Nice by Lucy Gannon (RSC) 11 August-29 September 1988 ( 1077)
  • Oedipus by Seneca (RSC) 18 August-1 October 1988 (1104)
  • The World of My Dreams play selection in Yiddish, 8-13 October 1988 (1413)
  • Theatre Complicite retrospective season, 17 October 1988-21 January 1989
:A Minute Too Late (1453)
:Ave Maria, Linda Kerr Scott
:Miss Dunnithorne’s Maggot by Peter Maxwell Davies (1598)
:Food of Love (1598)
:What Is All This Dancing? (1598)
:The Visit by Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1595)
:More Bigger Snacks Now (1750)
:My Army by Tim Barlow (1750)
:Please Please Please (1750)
:Phantom Violin by Gerard McBurney (1750)

  • Anything for a Quiet Life (Theatre Complicite) 11-21 January 1989 (34)
  • The Vinegar Works by Edward Gorey (dereck dereck) 24-28 January 1989 (88)
  • Polygraph by Robert Lepage and Marie Brassard 23 February-4 March 1989 (230)
  • Indigo by Heidi Thomas 9 March-1 April 1989 (300)
  • Mozart and Salieri by Alexander Pushkin 7 April-5 May 1989 (421)
  • Molière’s Don Juan (Georgian Studio USSR) 16-27 May 1989 (625)
  • Cinzano by Ludmilla Petrushevstaya 10-15 July 1989 (960)
  • Pacha Mama’s Blessing by Douglas Hodge and Peter Searles (NYT) 29 August-30 September 1989 (1147)
  • King Lear (Royal Shakespeare Company) 14 September-28 October 1989 (1248)
  • Kissing the Pope by Nick Darke (RSC) 21 September-26 October 1989 (1276)
  • HID - Hess Is Dead by Howard Brenton (RSC) 28 September-24 October 1989 (1327)
  • Lady Betty by Declan Donnellan (Cheek by Jowl) 30 November-23 December 1989 (1637)

Notable productions from 1990


External links

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