Critically acclaimed playwright, Abbie Spallen, has just been announced as the Lyric Theatre Belfast's new Writer-in-Residence. The Newry-born writer was described by the New York Times as "part of a new generation of Irish writers and filmmakers who are tackling weighty contemporary issues".
Her first play Pumpgirl, which was produced by the Lyric in 2008 and also played off-Broadway in New York, saw her jointly win the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for Best Play by a female playwright.
Abbie has a string of awards to her name including the Stewart Parker major award, The Tony Doyle award, the Clare McIntyre Bursary from The Royal Court, the Peggy Ramsay award, the Dublin City Council Bursary for Literature and the HALMA Foundation award for excellence in the European arts.
As well as writing, she has acted and directed films. For radio and screen she has worked with Northern Ireland Screen, BBC Northern Ireland, Equinox Germany, Ulysses Productions, BBC London and BBC NI Radio. She is currently under commission to the Royal National Theatre, the BBC ‘Casualty’ shadow scheme and BBC Radio 4.
As Northern Ireland’s only full-time producing theatre, the Lyric appoints a Writer-in-Residence annually as part of its aim to support new writing. Working with local writers, the Lyric provides a platform for discussion and interaction with audiences and theatre practitioners which makes it a vital hub for drama in Northern Ireland.
“I am delighted to have been given the opportunity to be the Lyric's new Writer-in-Residence,” said Abbie. “I've had many happy times in the Lyric Theatre as an actress and I'm now thrilled to have the chance to contribute, as a writer, to the future of this beautiful asset to Northern Ireland. It is of the utmost importance to me to work with newer playwrights during my year here and I am very excited to see how we can learn from each other as artists to produce work that is vital, unflinching and relevant to all parts of our changing society.”
Abbie described her plans for her year at the Lyric but didn’t reveal too much.
“I'm planning to work on a piece celebrating Northern Ireland and specifically the Lyric's place as a symbol of neutrality,” she said. “It'll be funny too. But it’s not necessarily a comedy.”
Richard Croxford, Lyric Artistic Director, welcomed Abbie in her new role: “We are delighted to have such a skilled writer as Abbie Spallen take up the post of Writer-in-Residence,” he said. “She has such a fine touch with dialogue and has already produced some very gutsy and exciting work for the Lyric. Anyone who saw Pumpgirl will know what a talent we have working with us. We look forward to supporting her over the next year.”
Gilly Campbell, Dance and Drama Officer, at the Arts Council, commented: “The Arts Council has supported Abbie’s career over a number of years and it’s fantastic to see her take up this post in Belfast. I am sure the appointment will benefit not only her own skills as a writer but the expertise, enthusiasm and ideas she will bring to the role will prove a great asset for the Lyric over the next 12 months.”
The Lyric’s outgoing Writer-in-Residence, David Ireland worked on a romantic comedy called Can’t Forget About You. A read-through of his script sold out the Naughton Studio in May and the Lyric hopes to produce it in the near future.
The Lyric Theatre’s autumn season begins on 13 September with J.M. Synge’s Irish masterpiece, The Playboy of the Western World.