It is with great sadness that the Lyric Theatre has learnt of the passing of Sam McCready in America this morning. Sam was in every sense a Renaissance man of the theatre; his great talents included Actor, Director, Designer, Writer, Painter and Drama Teacher. He first played in the Lyric in the late 1950’s where his exceptional talent was spotted by Mary O’Malley. He was invited to join the Lyric Theatre Trust in 1960 which eventually lead to the establishment of the Lyric Theatre on Ridgeway Street in 1968.
Amongst the many roles Sam played in the Lyric were Captain Boyle in Juno and the Paycock, the eponymous role in Richard the Third and Christy Mahon in a musical version of The Playboy of the Western World called A Heart’s A Wonder. He was known as a particularly brilliant speaker of Yeats’s verse and spoke the final lines from Yeats’s play The Resurrection at the closing of the Lyric studio in Derryvolgie Avenue. Sam was also an insightful and terrific director. One significant and controversial script he was responsible for bringing into production was by a young playwright called Martin Lynch. This was The Interrogation of Ambrose Fogarty which premiered at the Lyric in 1982. It also showcased a powerhouse performance by a young Ian McElhinney.
His passion for theatre was life affirming and pragmatic. He saw the power of the positive energy created by theatre and set up the Lyric Drama Studio for young people when the Lyric opened its doors in 1968. This may well be his greatest legacy as the number of young, talented actors who passed through this studio became the dynamic theatre force of the 1980s and beyond. His commitment to teaching drama and the place of drama within education led him to becoming a splendid drama teacher throughout the North but also in Bangor, North Wales and eventually an academic life in the United States, where he was Professor of Theatre at Maryland University, Baltimore from the 1980’s until his retirement.
Sam never forgot the Lyric and was a frequent visitor to the new theatre. Recently he directed his wife Joan in a dramatic staging of Helen Lewis’ biography A Time to Speak. His portrait by Neil Shawcross hangs proudly in our foyer. Sam’s final appearance on the Lyric’s stage was in April 2018 where he performed his own adaptation of No Surrender, based on the memoir of a Belfast childhood by Robert Harbinson.
Sam, himself, published a memoir of his early creative life detailing his experiences in the formation of the Lyric Theatre called Baptism of Fire.
Sam was a titan of Ulster Theatre. His profound impact on the theatre world here is vast and far reaching and his commitment to a creative life in all its aspects is inspiring and unique. He worked right up until relatively recently, his energy was truly extraordinary. He will be much missed by all his friends, colleagues and students and his passing closes another chapter on the inspiring story of that firebrand generation that founded the Lyric theatre. His legacy will reverberate for years to come.
We in the Lyric honour him.
We offer our sincere condolences to his wife Joan, his son Richard and all his extended family and friends.
Tomorrow we will be leading tributes to Sam from the Lyric’s stage after the performances of Sweeney Todd and Ruby.