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Almeida’s artistic directors to bolt

'All artistic venues need to regenerate,' sez Kent

LONDON — In the latest upheaval to rock the London theater world, Jonathan Kent and Ian McDiarmid announced they are stepping down as co-artistic directors of the Almeida Theater, a small playhouse that has made a big noise in nearly 12 years under the team’s joint stewardship.

During their tenure, Kevin Spacey caused a stir playing O’Neill (“The Iceman Cometh”) and Juliette Binoche made her London stage debut in Pirandello (“Naked”), but the play — not just the player — was the thing.

“Oh my God,” said Lindsay Duncan, an alumna of the Almeida’s acclaimed Pinter double bill of “The Room” and “Celebration,” when she heard of the duo’s plans to move on. “It’s the end of a very important era.”

A successor is expected to be named at the latest by early next year to lead the theater back into its refurbished Islington base by the end of 2002. At present, the Almeida is operating out of a renovated bus depot near King’s Cross Station, where Kent’s production of Chekhov’s “Platonov” — in a new version by David Hare — opens Tuesday.

Fresh blood needed

“All artistic ventures need to regenerate,” Kent told Daily Variety on Thursday. “Twelve years is a long time to run something, and it’s a good time to leave. Purely altruistically, this seemed the best time” to consider moving on.

The two leave the theater on sound footing both artistically and financially. Since 1990, the Almeida has won more than 45 theater awards, presented 15 world premieres and transferred 14 shows to New York, where a recent Almeida sellout — writer-director Neil LaBute’s “The Shape of Things” — starts previews Off Broadway Sept. 20 at the Promenade.

And the money finally is falling into place for the £6 million ($8.65 million) overhaul at their Islington home base. At the same time, a funding increase of 60% spread across three years means the Almeida, Kent said, “after 12 years is being acknowledged as a producing house, having always been funded as a receiving house.”

Few would argue with the impact made by the North London 303-seater since McDiarmid reopened the onetime music hall in January 1990, with Howard Barker’s “Scenes From an Execution” starring Glenda Jackson. Kent-directed productions of “Medea” and “Hamlet” won Tony Awards for stars Diana Rigg and Ralph Fiennes, respectively.

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