Move over Scandinavia - Northern Ireland is fast becoming the new hotbed for exciting TV drama from HBO's hit series Game of Thrones to BBC2's The Fall - and among the casts are many familiar faces from the local stage.
The pool of talent in both shows has been nurtured by treading the boards at the Lyric Theatre, Northern Ireland's only full-time producing theatre.
Two of the stars of Game of Thrones, Conleth Hill and Ian McElhinney are both currently directing plays at the Lyric. Conleth Hill, who plays the character Varys in the fantasy series, is making his directorial debut with the new romantic comedy Can’t Forget About You which previews from this weekend in the Naughton Studio.
Meanwhile, Belfast actor/director Ian McElhinney is directing the comedy Weddins, Weeins and Wakes by Marie Jones which opens next month on the Danske Bank Stage.
“We’ll go into filming Series 4 of Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland this autumn,” said Ian who plays Ser Barristan Selmy in the hit series. “We were delighted to win the BAFTA Radio Times Audience Award this week. It has been a hugely popular show with the public. I guess people really love fantasy but there are several dimensions to the series with lots of political intrigues and some fantastic characters.”
Ian has been a stalwart of the Lyric for many decades and said he is delighted to direct Weddins, Weeins and Wakes this summer.
“I have always enjoyed both acting and directing,” he said. “Audiences loved Weddins, Weeins and Wakes the last time we did it 12 years ago and we expect a lot of them to come back. Hopefully we will attract a whole new set of fans of the show. It is just a fun, lively night at the theatre with lots and lots of music!”
Conleth Hill, who is from Ballycastle, has enjoyed a very successful career on stage and screen including an acclaimed run in the original Lyric production of Stones in his Pockets which went on to conquer the West End and Broadway. He had further success last year starring in the Northern Ireland Short Film, The Shore which won an Oscar. Conleth said he is now looking forward to directing his first play at the Lyric.
“I’m very happy with the cast and creatives at the Lyric,” he said. “We have old and new faces working together brilliantly.”
A string of other actors, including many up-and-coming young faces, appear in the new crime drama The Fall which opened to rave reviews this week on BBC2.
The five-part series filmed in Belfast stars top male model-turned-actor, Jamie Dornan and American actress Gillian Anderson. However, many of the supporting cast began and continue their careers on the Lyric stage.
Gerard Jordan and Karen Hassan who both appeared in Monday’s first episode recently starred together in Mixed Marriage at the Lyric. Other cast members include Laura Donnelly (Dancing at Lughnasa), Siobhan McSweeney (Uncle Vanya), Gerard McCarthy (The Snow Queen), Eugene O’Hare (The Civilisation Game) and Frank McCusker (The Lonesome West).
Richard Croxford, Lyric Artistic Director said: “Northern Ireland really is reaping the benefits of investing in its arts sector. We have a terrific pool of acting talent in Northern Ireland and the Lyric, as a producing theatre, certainly helps to nurture and inspire actors, writers and directors. It is therefore vital that local audiences and funders continue to support live theatre in Belfast.”
Can’t Forget About You runs in the Naughton Studio from 23 May to 16 June (previews 19, 21 & 22 May). Tickets from £13 - £16.
Weddins, Weeins And Wakes runs on the Danske Bank Stage from 13 June to 7 July (previews 9, 11 & 12 June). Tickets from £10 - £24.50.