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Hampstead Chief Topper Joins Director Exodus

By • West End
Another one of the top jobs in London theatre is up for grabs with the official announcement this week that Jenny Topper will stand down as artistic director of north London's Hampstead Theatre, one of the capitals leading venues for acclaimed new work.

The announcement follows the recent resignations of other leading artistic directors - the dream team of Jonathan Kent and Ian McDiarmid announced in September that they would be leaving the Almeida Theatre while the Donmar's Sam Mendes made his resignation public only last week. And, of course, over at the National, Trevor Nunn will be replaced by Nicholas Hytner in April 2003. As in those cases, Topper has given considerable notice of her departure. She will leave in mid-2003.

The exact end date for Topper's reign is not yet known as it will depend largely on the construction schedule of the theatre's new state-of-the-art facility, which is due to be completed in late 2002. Topper has agreed with the Hampstead Theatre Board that she would see the development of the new theatre through to its completion, before handing over to a new artistic director. This is expected to be within six months of the venue's completion.

Topper joined the Hampstead Theatre as artistic director in 1988. Under her directorship, the theatre has produced 126 plays of which 90 were premieres. Of those, 21 productions have transferred to the West End (including Burn This, Dead Funny, Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs and Feelgood), 18 have toured the country (including The Memory of Water), two have transferred to Broadway (Aristocrats and Someone Who'll Watch Over Me) and 34 have had further lives in television, film, in the regions and across the world.

Other memorable successes have included A Room of One's Own with Eileen Atkins, Making it Better with Rufus Sewell, The Fastest Clock in the Universe by Philip Ridley, Marvin's Room with Alison Steadman, Slavs! by Tony Kushner, and Some Sunny Day by Martin Sherman and with Rupert Everett and Corin Redgrave.

Commenting on her decision to leave, Topper said: "It has been my great privilege to guide Hampstead Theatre into its new home, but it is my belief that new buildings need to be fuelled by new energy. The process of change has been carefully managed and so I am able to look forward with relish to our final nine months in our current building and with keen anticipation to opening the new theatre. Ever since the Council condemned our portacabin, I have committed myself to seeing a new Hampstead Theatre built for new generations of theatregoers."

Vincent Wang, chairman of the Hampstead board, added: "Over the past five years, (Topper) has not only run the existing theatre but worked to ensure that our new theatre becomes a reality. We are indebted to her for her commitment and her vision. Jenny will be handing over one of the most exciting jobs in British Theatre - the chance to run a vibrant new writing theatre with a stunning new home backed up by an experienced management team."

Designed by award-winning architects, Bennetts Associates, the new Hampstead (design pictured) will be the first new stand-alone producing theatre to be built in London since the National opened in 1976. The landmark building will be a striking translucent structure housing a flexible elliptical auditorium with space to seat up to 325. It will also house a space dedicated exclusively to the theatre's education and community work and a bar and café. Both public and backstage areas will offer improved facilities and full access for people with disabilities.

Construction began in October on the building, which is funded by a Lottery grant of nearly £10 million and an additional £5 million raised by the theatre itself. The Hampstead’s current prefab structure, which was only ever meant to be temporary, has housed the theatre for 40 years.

Terri Paddock


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