Judith Dimant: The woman who puts brilliance on the stage

Judith Dimant is the woman who makes UK’s most innovative theatre company tick.

By John Nathan, October 17, 2008

When the dazzlingly talented novelist Jonathan Safran Foer teams up with the visionary theatre director Simon McBurney to make their first film, it will all be because of Judith Dimant.

"I just knew that Simon and Jonathan would be interested in the same things - where we are going; who we are; identity; migration," says Dimant, reeling off profound, meaning-of-life subjects while sitting at the kitchen table of her house in Kentish Town in London.

She lives down the road from the offices of Complicite, the powerhouse theatre company that was co-founded by McBurney 25 years ago and whose name has become a byword for brilliance. Dimant is Complicite's producer, the organisational force that turns McBurney's ideas into reality on stage.

Her relationship with Complicte started in 1992, with McBurney's landmark production of The Street of Crocodiles which was based on the life of the Polish-Jewish writer Bruno Schultz. "I saw the show and I remember thinking I want to work with this company," she says.

Up until then her theatrical experience included working as a press officer for the Royal Court and running the Hen and Chickens Theatre in North London, where, "I did everything, swept the stage, booked the acts", including Jewish stand-up comedian Ivor Dembina whose marriage to Dimant in 1994 was too brief to be called "whirlwind".

Now she lives with her partner John, a Complicite production technician who is the father of her two daughters. "Both of them were real Complicite babies. One was born in the first week of rehearsal for Mnemonic" - the masterpiece inspired by the 1991 discovery in the Tyrolean Alps of the remains of a Neolithic man - "and the second was born in the opening week on Broadway," she says.

The 45-year-old producer describes work at Complicite as "organised chaos... but I'm sure that is its strength, and why I'm still there. Because it changes all the time. It's never the same twice."

The daughter of a picture framer, Dimant grew up in Hampstead Garden Suburb and went to Manchester University to read history of art. "I look at my peer group and I've always thought I'm incredibly lucky. I've always known exactly what I wanted to do," she says.

And the next thing she wants to do is produce Complicte's first film, a collaboration between Foer and McBurney. Foer is best known for his novel Everything Is Illuminated, about a Jewish New Yorker who attempts to trace the Ukranian woman who saved his grandfather from the Holocaust. "When his second book came out in 2005 I went to a book signing. I put the book in front of him and I told him what I do and he said he knew all about Complicte."

Since then Foer and McBurney have been corresponding. When the film is made (Dimant is still raising money but wants to start shooting in 2010), the result will be hugely anticipated. But what will it be about? Tantalisingly, the artists are still at the stage of mapping out themes. As Dimant puts it, "to make something that reflects a shared vision of the absurdity of our times. And the absurdity of time."

But the last word goes to McBurney - not about the film, but about Dimant. "Working with Judith is one of the most critical experiences of my life," he says. "Simply put, without Judith, there is a great deal that I have made which I could never have made had she not been there to bring some light in the darkness. She is my torch. And I love her."

Complicite's A Disappearing Number is at the Barbican, London EC3 until November 1. Details at www.barbican. org.uk

Last updated: 3:01pm, February 18 2011