The Lyric Theatre Belfast was celebrating its first anniversary in the new building today with the news that 128,000 people have been through its doors.
Almost 90,000 people saw shows at the new theatre and on tour over the past year – far exceeding the initial target of 70,000. Nearly 30,000 people have used the conferencing facilities and been to the Café Bar with its stunning views over the River Lagan.
On 1 May last year, the £18.1 million theatre opened its doors on the site of the old Lyric on Ridgeway Street. The new building, which has won numerous design and architecture awards, signaled the continued regeneration of Belfast and the development of arts infrastructure for artists and audiences alike.
As its only full-time producing theatre, the Lyric is the biggest employer of actors, writers, directors, and production staff in Northern Ireland. A key part of its remit is education and outreach work, and more than 9,000 people took part in its Creative Learning courses over the past year. These included the Lyric Theatre School for drama enthusiasts of all ages, the Drama Studio for young people keen to become professional actors, and the Lyric Summer School.
The Lyric has also endeavoured to expand its audience and make drama accessible to everyone. To achieve this, it has given out more than 2,000 Lyric £5 Super Saver tickets and a further 1,100 complimentary tickets as part of Audience Northern Ireland’s Test Drive the Arts campaign.
Of the 90,000-strong audiences, almost 68,000 of these have been to see a play on the Northern Bank Stage – the main 389-seat auditorium – where stars of stage and screen have appeared over the past year. These have included Kenneth Branagh, Rob Brydon, Conleth Hill and Stella McCusker to name but a few.
As part of a fortnight of anniversary celebrations, there have been two sold-out special events on the Northern Bank Stage. Poet Laureate Seamus Heaney delivered a lecture Speak The Speech last week and acclaimed actor, Stephen Rea narrated The Third Policeman with musical accompaniment last night.
The first original new play on Northern Bank Stage opens this Thursday (3 May) with the comedy-thriller The Civilisation Game. Written and directed by Tim Loane, creator of the hit Channel 4 series Teachers, and starring Eugene O’Hare (Waking The Dead), Alan McKee (Grimes & McKee) and Allie Ford (Give My Head Peace), it will run throughout the first anniversary month of the new building (3 -26 May).
Ciarán McAuley, Lyric Chief Executive, attributed the success of the theatre’s first year to the quality of its award-winning productions.
“Our first drama on the Northern Bank Stage, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, won two Irish Times Theatre Awards this year,” he said. “Conall Morrison won Best Director while Aoife Duffin won Best Supporting Actress. We are delighted that our first year audience figures have exceeded our initial target. We aim to continue to exceed expectations with the shows we produce and the opportunities we offer to get involved in theatre.”
Northern Bank External Relations Manager, Rhonda Gibson said: “As corporate partner of the theatre, Northern Bank is delighted to be associated with the many outstanding performances and productions on the Northern Bank Stage over the past year."
She added: "Only a year ago this fantastic venue opened its doors to a theatre going public full of anticipation. Alongside the many well deserved awards and accolades that the Lyric has attracted in its first year, the combination of a welcoming venue and such high quality productions is proving to be hugely popular with audiences and visitors. This winning combination is creating an exciting new era for a venue that has for decades been a much-loved cultural landmark, and Northern Bank is pleased to play its part.”
Noirin McKinney, director of Arts Development at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said: “This has been another momentous year for local theatre. The past twelve months have been a landmark time for the Lyric. We are delighted to welcome an exciting new phase in the history of this celebrated theatre.”