Ian McDiarmid (pictured) will make his final stage appearance as joint artistic director of London's Almeida Theatre when he stars in the world premiere of Giorgio Battistelli's The Embalmer, running from 10 to 14 July 2002, as part of the Almeida's eleventh annual opera season.

Based on the short story by Renzo Rosso, The Embalmer tells the tale of Alexei Miscin, a voluble drunk who's in charge of Lenin's embalmed corpse, on view daily to thousands. The Embalmer is Battistelli's third music-theatre piece presented by Almeida Opera. McDiarmid, who plays Alexei Miscin, originated the role of Count Cenci in Battistelli's The Cenci and narrated his Experimentum Mundi.

McDiarmid's other recent Almeida acting credits have included The Jew of Malta, The Doctor's Dilemma, The Government Inspector, The Tempest and Faith Healer, for which he won this year's Critics Circle Award for Best Actor. On film, he has appeared in Gorky Park, Hillsborough, Sleepy Hollow and the new Star Wars trilogy.

McDiarmid and Jonathan Kent took over as joint artistic directors of the Almeida in 1990. At the time, it was a tiny fringe theatre that 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 permanent 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, 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.

Kent and McDiarmid have steered the Almeida towards regular appearances in the West End (including a year-long residency at the Albery where they managed to stage a double bill of Racine, starring Diana Rigg), two summer seasons in Malvern and eleven annual contemporary opera festivals. Other highlights of their reign have included the creation of new performance spaces in unlikely settings - including the Gainsborough Studios in Shoreditch, which last year hosted Ralph Fiennes' double dose of Shakespeare care of the Almeida, and the theatre's current home in a converted coach station at King's Cross.

The directors announced their joint resignation in September 2001, saying that artistically it was "time to go". At the conclusion of this year's Almeida Opera, they will be succeeded by former RSC associate director Michael Attenborough.

- by Kristen Harjung & Terri Paddock