Good Venue Guide: 18: The Almeida Theatre, N1
Sunday 08 February 1998
Brief history: the original building was home to the Islington Literary and Scientific Society, which staged lectures and events including, in January 1840, the unwrapping of an Egyptian mummy (bought for pounds 200). When the society was wound up in 1872, the building began a series of transformations from music hall to Salvation Army citadel to air raid shelter. In 1956 it became a factory and showroom for Beck's Carnival Novelties, but this association ended in 1971, when the owner was murdered by his stepson. Pierre Audi acquired, renovated and opened the building as the Almeida Theatre in 1980. It achieved some success as the venue for the International Festival of Contemporary Music, winning the Prudential Award in 1989, but really took off under the joint artistic directorship of Jonathan Kent and Ian McDiarmid in 1990, since when the Almeida has been a full-time theatre.
The building: designed by Gough and Roumieu, the original building featured a classical stuccoed exterior, and included a gas-lit library of 5,000 books, a foyer with a grand staircase of Portland stone and a 500-seat lecture theatre. It was sold for pounds 960 in 1874 and fell into dilapidation. After it had been modernised by the Almeida Theatre Co, it became a Grade II listed building.
Landmark productions: Medea (1992) and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1996) with Diana Rigg, and Ivanov with Ralph Fiennes (1997).
Recommended seats: the middle of row E, price pounds 19.50.
Current events: Luigi Pirandello's Naked with Juliette Binoche, from Thurs to 28 Mar. Tickets pounds 6.50-pounds 19.50. All bookings on 0171 359 4404.
Getting there: Angel or Highbury & Islington underground stations.
Where to meet: the Almeida cafe/bar.
Cost of a glass of wine: pounds 2.50.
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