In a year of significant anniversaries, the Lyric Theatre is proud to present its First Anniversary Season bound to entice you – if you haven’t already – across the threshold of this magnificent building.
The Lyric is delighted to host two special evenings in the run-up to the anniversary of its re-opening last May – first with Nobel Laureate poet Seamus Heaney and then a night with acclaimed actor Stephen Rea who will narrate Flann O’Brien’s comic masterpiece The Third Policeman.
There is just one word on everyone’s lips in this centenary year – Titanic – and to commemorate Belfast’s infamous ship, the Lyric begins the spring season with the world premiere of White Star of the North. Starring Andrew Simpson (Notes on a Scandal with Dame Judi Dench) and Kerr Logan (HBO’s Game of Thrones), this is a powerful play that examines the seismic events which shook Ulster in 1912.
With a packed programme of Titanic events across Northern Ireland, the Lyric has remained true to its tradition of developing local artistic talent, presenting a home-grown play by Belfast writer, Rosemary Jenkinson that focuses on the human impact of that historic year both at home and at sea.
Another Lyric debut comes hot on its heels in May with a new play from the creator of Channel 4’s Teachers, Tim Loane. The Civilisation Game is a wickedly dark comedy thriller set in suburbia that will stir the imagination of many a would-be armchair judge. A young couple catch a burglar in their house but before they call the police, their new neighbours land in with more entertaining ideas of criminal justice.
What better way to lift the gloom of the recession than one of the funniest plays in the English language? Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is a highlight of the summer programme. This hilarious satire about our sense of duty, keeping up appearances and our obsession with social status is no less relevant today than it was in Victorian times.
Scottish director Graham McLaren promises to put a fabulous spectacle on the Northern Bank Stage worthy of Wilde’s masterpiece, so it’s important to fetch your handbags and book early for this one.
The giggles and titters are set to continue throughout the summer with the return of Molly Wobbly’s Tit Factory, now fully enlarged into a main stage production prior to its official World Premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Paul Boyd’s graphic musical comedy takes a swipe at a society that considers beauty to be only skin deep and tackles even the most taboo of subjects in song. If you like The Witches of Eastwick, Desperate Housewives or The Rocky Horror Show… you’ll love this!
Advance notice autumn highlight
The mood turns much blacker in the autumn when the Lyric brings back one of Shakespeare’s most popular tragedies, Macbeth. The bloody tale of murders, witchcraft and the corrupting effects of ambition is directed by Lynne Parker who creates a darkly comic version of the Scottish play by harnessing the wit and muscularity of the Ulster idiom. This five-week run on the Northern Bank Stage includes Wednesday matinees, ideal for school groups which enjoy a discounted rate, and tickets for this production are on sale now.
Sticking to the Shakespeare theme, the Lyric is delighted to welcome six groups of amateur actors, from as far afield as Galway, to present their work in the Naughton Studio as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC)’s Open Stages project in April.
Many local theatre companies pay a visit to the Lyric this season. One of the most eagerly awaited is The Millennium Forum Derry’s tour of Carthaginians. An elegy for Bloody Sunday, it is regarded as one of the few enduring plays to have emerged from ‘The Troubles’. Directed by Adrian Dunbar, whose face is more familiar on stage, Frank McGuinness’ haunting play has already attracted rave reviews.
For one night only at the Lyric, award-winning NI Opera presents The Turn of the Screw, one of the twentieth century’s greatest and most gripping operas. Also coming to the Northern Bank Stage this season is Melmoth the Wanderer – the first ever horror novel brought to hideous life by Big Telly Theatre Company in a brilliant show that mixes comedy with suspense.
Perhaps one of the biggest anniversaries this year is the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birth. To mark it, Sam McCready wrote and stars in Dickens at the Ulster Hall, a one-man show which premieres at the Lyric in May and interweaves extracts from the writer’s best-loved novels.
Children and Creative Learning
There is also plenty for the kids, with Belfast Children’s Festival putting on three shows at the Lyric this week. Theater Mummpitz from Germany brings The Terrific Adventures of Brave Johanna Woodsword; Replay Theatre Company presents the feverish adventure story Marianne Dreams; and A Spell of Cold Weather is brought by Cahoots NI about a little girl and a fairy who bring some festive cheer back into the lives of two farmers.
The Kids in Control showcase which is part of the Lyric Theatre’s Creative Learning Programme takes place later this month and is followed by Lessons in Life, a performance by young drama students from the Integrated Schools Theatre Initiative and The Nitty Gritty Theatre Company.
The Lyric’s Creative Learning department offers a diverse and full programme of events throughout the year. The five different groups of its Theatre School, for drama enthusiasts of all ages, meet weekly during term time and the various courses book out very quickly. There is also an exceptional outreach programme, visiting schools and communities across Northern Ireland to take theatre beyond the banks of the Lagan.
Of course, the Lyric doesn’t just support budding actors but new writing for the theatre. Playwright-in-Residence, David Ireland will put on his first play, Can’t Forget About You, a romantic comedy that touches on deeper themes of grief, sexual mores and sectarianism in Northern Ireland. There is a chance to sample some new writing at the first of the Lyric Write Nights in May when new playwrights trial their work in the Naughton Studio.
There is also a host of events to engage all manner of tastes this season at the Lyric. Enjoy a night of stand-up comedy with Colin Murphy, or for Gaelic football fans, some lively debate in a panel discussion with GAA experts from the Irish News and All-Ireland winning Goalkeeper, Benny Tierney.
And if you just want to sit and enjoy a glass of wine in the theatre’s stunning Café Bar, then Hunter’s Wine Tasting evening may appeal. The Lyric and Direct Wine Shipments have organised not one but two special wine tasting evenings, featuring one of New Zealand’s most highly regarded wine producers Jane Hunter – owner, viticulturist and managing director of the family-owned company.
“Time flies when you’re having fun!” said Lyric Artistic Director Richard Croxford. “I can’t believe that almost a year has passed since we opened the doors of this beautiful new building and already over 70,000 people have been through our doors to see productions on either the Northern Bank Stage or in the Naughton Studio.
“We have such a wonderful season ahead with plays that resonate strongly with current events, from the anniversaries of the Titanic and the Ulster Covenant through to present day issues such as the ‘Big Society’ and the perils of cosmetic surgery.
“Lyric Theatre productions are ‘made in Northern Ireland’, providing employment for actors, writers, directors and designers and creating home-grown drama that excites local audiences and visitors to the city in equal measure.”
Arts Council of Northern Ireland Chief Executive, Roisín McDonough, said: “The past twelve months have been an exciting phase in the history of this celebrated theatre. The Lyric has for a long time been at the centre of developing local artistic talent and during this season audiences can look forward to many programme highlights, including two début performances of works by Belfast-based writers – Rosemary Jenkinson’s White Star of the North and Tim Loane’s new play, The Civilisation Game. We look forward to a successful second year for this wonderful arts venue.”