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The Independent Culture
The Almeida Theatre Company is riding high. The last couple of years have seen a range of successes from The Deep Blue Sea (Penelope Wilton's heartbreaking performance alone sparking off the entire Rattigan revival) and Phyllis Nagy's Butterfly Kiss, to Julian Grant's A Family Affair and Jonathan Dove's Siren Song, the hits of successive Almeida Opera seasons. Like all theatres, there has been the odd dud. Even Brenda Blethyn couldn't rescue The Bed Before Yesterday, a revival which was, to say the least, a puzzling choice. Broadway has tasted the fruits of this theatrical hothouse thanks to the transatlantic transfer of Medea which, amongst a host of other achievements, won Diana Rigg her damehood.

This year, Jonathan Kent (above) and joint artistic director Ian McDiarmid have widened their net. The size of the Almeida means great atmosphere and intimacy but relatively low box-office returns. In a sharp-eyed move, Kent has cast his Hamlet with Ralph Fiennes, another solid-gold star, and moved to the Hackney Empire, which is more than three times the size. This means bigger audiences, bigger box office and a big-enough set for Broadway. The resulting in-house vacancy leaves room for the London run of the critical and box-office smash, The Winter Guest by Sharman Macdonald, in a co-production between the Almeida and West Yorkshire Playhouse, whose recent track record is none too ropy either. Who said theatre people weren't good at business?

`Hamlet' is at the Hackney Empire, E9 (071-312 1995). `The Winter Guest' begins previews on Thur at the Almeida, N1 (071-359 4404)