The Almeida Theatre’s artistic director Michael Attenborough celebrates 10 years in ‘the best job in London theatre’

14:14 22 March 2012

Michael Attenborough in rehearsals for Filumena at the Almeida Theatre. Picture by Hugo Glendinning

Michael Attenborough in rehearsals for Filumena at the Almeida Theatre. Picture by Hugo Glendinning

HUGO

As his latest production opens and he celebrates a decade at the Almeida Theatre, Michael Attenborough speaks about his time leading one of London’s top theatres

»There is a restless spirit to Michael Attenborough that comes out when he reflects on his 10 years at the helm of the Almeida.

He must surely be proud of his many successes, but it quickly becomes apparent that the theatre’s artistic director has no intention of basking in past glories.

After 10 years, it’s clear his appetite for staging exciting productions hasn’t waned, as he reveals his vision for a more daring future.

He says: “My feeling about the future is we should go even bolder and even more adventurous. We have tried never to be complacent and to keep stretching the boundaries.

“But whether its bigger cast plays or less well-known works, I want to push the boat out and take risks.”

Running a major theatre must be fairly tough going and Attenborough describes it as a “pretty full-on and stressful job” – but he’s obviously happy with his lot.

“I have the best job in London theatre,” he says.

“It’s a big job, you’re always planning or directing and you’re responsible for the whole outfit.

“But the Almeida is a great space and I’ve been fortunate that wonderful artists want to work here.”

In recent years, those artists have included such heavyweight playwrights as Neil LaBute, David Mamet and Stephen Poliakoff.

With LaBute, he has enjoyed an especially fruitful partnership that has yielded three productions, including the past winter’s hit Reasons to be Pretty, starring Billie Piper.

“You’re only as good as the artists you work with,” he says.

“When I look back, a couple of plays didn’t work as well as I would have liked in the first couple of years, but on the whole it’s been a very happy ride.”

The 62-year-old, son of actor Richard, has faced a fair few challenges from the moment he took up the reins in March 2002.

At the time, the playhouse in Almeida Street, Islington, was shut for a multi-million pound restoration project and the company operated out of a former bus shelter in King’s Cross, while last year it faced a hefty cut in Arts Council backing.

But despite these hurdles, the theatre has continued to flourish under Attenborough’s stewardship with one hit after another.

He says: “There is clearly a following for the Almeida. People trust they will have a good evening, even if they are coming to something they have never heard of.”

The latest production, which Attenborough directs, is a new translation of Italian playwright Eduardo De Filippo’s Filumena, and opened last Thursday.

He says: “It’s a beautiful human story. It’s set in Naples in the 1940s and I think it transports the audience into quite an extraordinary other world.

“It’s the tale of a woman who pulls herself out of a slum and makes a life for herself.”

n Filumena is at the Almeida Theatre, in Almeida Street, N1, until Saturday, May 12.

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