Kent and McDiarmid, who over the past decade have built the Almeida into one of the most powerful and fashionable of theatrical empires, announced their joint resignation this past September and are now fulfilling their farewell season. Since then, speculation over successors for this and other imminent director vacancies – at other leading London theatres, the Donmar Warehouse and Hampstead Theatre - has been rife.
Other names mentioned in connection with the Almeida in particular have previously included former NT artistic director Richard Eyre, Cheek by Jowl's Declan Donnellan, former Royal Court director and Billy Elliot star Stephen Daldry, NT associate directors Mick Gordon and Howard Davies, and even a new "dream team" of actor Antony Sher and director Gregory Doran.
Attenborough, the son of actor-director Richard, is a strong if surprisingly lower-profile choice. Previously artistic director of the Hampstead and Watford's Palace Theatre, he has also acted as associate director at the Young Vic and at Colchester's Mercury Theatre. During these years, he garnered several awards and produced numerous productions that went on transfer to the West End and Broadway.
In 1990, Attenborough joined the Royal Shakespeare Company where he has acted as an executive producer and principal associate director. His outings for the RSC have included numerous world premieres and award-winning productions, such as The Herbal Bed, Pentecost, Romeo and Juliet, A Month in the Country and David Edgar's The Prisoner's Dilemma, currently playing at the Barbican. This April, he will direct his final production for the RSC - Antony and Cleopatra, starring Sinead Cusack.
Commenting on Attenborough's new appointment at the Almeida, RSC artistic director Adrian Noble said: "I am delighted for Mike. He has been an invaluable and inspiring force in the Company for over a decade. What's more, as he demonstrated with his fantastic contribution to the RSC's recent Histories cycle and his current production of David Edgar's The Prisoner's Dilemma, he is on an artistic roll!"
Noble continued: "Mike arrived at the RSC as a highly respected director of new plays and leaves as one of the country's most important interpreters of Shakespeare and the classics. I have no doubt that he will put his unique talent and boundless energy to good use at the Almeida."
Kent and McDiarmid took over at the Almeida in 1990. At the time, it was a tiny fringe theatre which acted mainly as a receiving house. Throughout the 1990s, the pair transformed it into a full-fledged producing outfit with an unrivalled reputation and a reach far beyond its home in Islington, north London. Amongst its many honours are no fewer than 45-odd theatre awards, including Olivier and Evening Standard awards for outstanding achievement.
In addition to critical acclaim and regular West End transfers, the theatre has also regularly attracted stars of stage and screen - including Hollywood actors such as Kevin Spacey, Juliette Binoche and Liam Neeson - for its productions of classic revivals, ground-breaking re-interpretations and world premieres from heavyweights such as David Hare, Nicholas Wright, Edward Albee, Harold Pinter and Neil LaBute.
The Almeida is currently residing in a converted bus shelter at King’s Cross while its permanent home in Islington undergoes a £4m refurbishment. Attenborough will oversee the theatre’s homecoming.
- by Terri Paddock