Attenborough bows out as director of Islington’s Almeida Theatre

Michael Attenborough is to step down as artistic director of the Almeida Theatre after an 11-year tenure.

Michael Attenborough is to step down as artistic director of the Almeida Theatre after an 11-year tenure.

The 62-year-old theatre veteran and son of film legend Richard Attenborough, who has presided over 32 premieres at the theatre, will retire from the post early next year.

Mr Attenborough announced that his tenure at the theatre had easily been “the highlight of his 40-year career.”

He said: “When you step down from a job you have enjoyed for so long, you have huge mixed feelings.

“Of course I will be sad to leave, but I’m also looking forward to spending more time with my family and launching myself into directing.”

He went on to commend the Almeida’s directors, audiences and the community for making his time there so memorable.

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He also spoke of his affection for Islington.

“I’ve always found Islington itself to be a lively place,” he said. “I greatly admire its alfresco restaurants and, like in New York, life just seems to spill on to the streets.”

Mr Attenborough heaped particular praise on writer David Eldridge for his 2011 play The Knot of the Heart, an adult drama focusing on drug addiction. He said: “If you’re producing King Lear, you expect to sell out, but you wouldn’t expect such a demanding piece of drama to pack the place like it did.”

Out of this play came the inspiration for the youth drama Crawling in the Dark, a successful production performed by the Young Friends of the Almeida.

The creation of the youth project, which has a current membership of more than 500, also stands as a hallmark of Mr Attenborough’s tenure.

Yet perhaps his greatest achievement has been cutting the �1.4million deficit he inherited on arrival at the theatre.

He explained: “Getting us out of the red was a huge challenge, and it took a great deal of work to get us into the black.

“We have been fortunate that we can rely on a huge body of private sponsors, without whom our success would not have been possible.”

Although unable to confirm his long-term plans, Mr Attenborough said he now intended to collaborate on a 20-minute short film with friend and director Neil LaBute, whose play Reasons to Be Pretty had its UK premiere at the Almeida last year with Billie Piper in a leading role.

The chairman of the theatre’s board, Christopher Rodrigues, said: “It has been a privilege for all of us to work with Michael Attenborough.

“He has taken the Almeida from strength to strength locally, nationally and internationally by presenting a truly diverse programme of work of which we are all immeasurably proud.

“Our challenge now is to secure a worthy successor for one of the most exciting roles in British theatre.”