Lyric Announces Year of Celebrations to Mark 50 Years on Ridgeway Street

The Lyric Theatre is delighted to announce a programme celebrating its 50 year role at the heart of the history, heritage and contemporary culture of theatre in Northern Ireland. 

 

Opening for business on the banks of the Lagan in 1968, its visionary founders were motivated by the fundamental belief that society needs accessible spaces in which artists can have the courage of their convictions and be allowed to soar.  That small theatre, founded by Mary O’Malley, became a haven during the turbulent time of the Troubles, providing a space for reflection and a place to broaden horizons by looking outwards.

The Lyric engages audiences at home and abroad by producing a stimulating, high quality programme of classical and contemporary drama, using the very best of Irish theatre professionals. Since 1968, the Lyric has utilised the power of live theatre to empower, inspire, engage and challenge audiences.  The theatre never closed during the Troubles and rebuilt for a new era when peace came. The life of the Lyric matches the wider life of Northern Ireland over the past 50 years – an open, welcoming space at the heart of the arts; a place of dialogue, drama and encounter.

Audiences have grown, turnover has increased and brought more theatre to more people with touring work than at any time in the history of the theatre.  As Northern Ireland’s only full-time producing theatre, it is the largest employer of actors in the region and represents a cornerstone for the industry.  Following extensive capital development in 2011 on its existing site on the banks of the River Lagan, the new Lyric is almost three times the size of its predecessor, and has attracted over ½ million audiences and played to a further 60,000 on tour.  It has provided nearly 600 weeks of employment for actors, whilst contracts for freelance directors and designers ensures that the blossoming film and television industry continues to have the talent and expertise for it to grow.

The Lyric has premiered the works of playwrights such as Stewart Parker (Northern Star in 1982), Martin Lynch (Dockers in 1981), Christina Reid (Tea in a China Cup in 1983) and Marie Jones (Stones in his Pockets in 1997), and employed some of Northern Ireland’s finest actors, including Adrian Dunbar, Dan Gordon, Conleth Hill, Ciaran Hinds, Stella McCusker, Ian McIlhinney, Frances Tomelty and the Theatre’s patron, Liam Neeson.  It continues to nurture and support writers, performers, directors and designers, playing a part in the wider development of NI as a centre of excellence for film & TV drama production.

In recent years the Lyric has produced phenomenal productions by maturing directors, such as Emma Jordan (Educating Rita and Red), Selina Cartmell (Punk Rock), Walter Sutcliffe (The Threepenny Opera), and Paul Boyd (Little Red Riding Hood).  It profiles the most exciting new voices in Irish Theatre through its New Playwrights development programme, showcasing and its support for Artist in Residencies.  Most recently, in 2017 one of the Lyric’s writers-in-residence David Ireland won the James Tait Black Award for his play Cyprus Avenue produced by the Abbey Theatre and the Royal Court in London.

The Lyric is Northern Ireland’s most important resource for the professional development of young and aspiring artists. Since the new building opened in 2011, there is an enviable track record in encouraging young people to fulfil their creative potential.  The Creative Learning Department has seen a staggering 33 young people gain places at Drama Schools, taking to the stage on both Broadway and the West End. For example, in 2018 one of its ‘alumni’ who credits the Lyric with preparing him for the future, Anthony Boyle will be on the Broadway stage as Scorpius Malfoy in the long awaited New York premiere of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Executive Producer of the Lyric, Jimmy Fay, has attracted local and international critical acclaim and toured successfully to New York, Dublin, London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Letterkenny, Cork, Perth and Wales. Productions have included actors such as Sir Kenneth Branagh, Simon Callow, Rob Brydon, Adrian Dunbar and Conleth Hill, and new co-productions with the Young Vic, the Dublin Theatre Festival, and the Abbey and Soho Theatre.  This year alone, the Lyric has received seven nominations for RED, co-production with Prime Cut.

Jimmy Fay commented,

“In 2018 the Lyric celebrates its 50th anniversary on Ridgeway Street.  This is a remarkable achievement for a theatre of this size.  It is a testament to the wonderful loyalty, interest and affection that this theatre is held in by its audience.  And to the great vibrancy, talent and skill of the many great artists (poets, writers, actors, musicians, directors, designers, backstage and administrative staff) that have worked in the Lyric over its many years.  This year we plan to celebrate the past and look to the future by offering a programme of work that puts the community at its heart, that celebrates the transformative power of people power and the exuberant joy and intensity of creating Art.  The Lyric belongs to its audience and its artists.  We look forward to continuing our dialogue, our performances and our adventures together for many years to come.”

 

As part of the 50th celebrations, the Lyric is looking for your memories, anything that audiences can recall of seeing shows in the theatre (old and new) over the years – be it a memory, old programmes, or photos. The memories will be added to an ongoing archive and exhibited later in the year and on social media.

Further 50th celebration announcements in the Spring will include:

–       In addition to over 15 visiting shows per month, new landmark productions for both Belfast and international audiences

–       A series of ‘In Conversation With’ events in partnership with the BBC NI’s The Arts Show, profiling key figures associated with the Lyric

–       Two celebratory gala events which will be held in May and October.

 

Lorraine McDowell, Director of Operations, Arts Council of Northern Ireland said, “Congratulations to the Lyric Theatre on achieving their 50th anniversary.  The Arts Council is immensely proud to the Principal Funder of the Lyric Theatre.  The Lyric Theatre is Northern Ireland’s only full-time producing theatre, is the largest employer of actors in the region and represents the cornerstone of producing theatre in Northern Ireland.  The Lyric Theatre is fundamental to the drama sector in Northern Ireland and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland look forward with excitement to the 50th anniversary programme of celebration taking place throughout 2018.”

 

The Lyric’s 50th Season Programme can be found at www.lyricbelfast.co.uk.

Box Office 028 9038 1081.

Photos from previous productions over the last 50 years and our 2018 programme can be downloaded here.

 

50th HIGHLIGHTS

 

NEW PLAYWRIGHTS PROGRAMME

The Lyric is always on the lookout for exciting new work to produce, and passionate about supporting and developing emerging talent.  Now as part of our 50th celebrations and building on the success of last year’s inaugural programme, the Lyric are accepting script submissions for our New Playwrights Programme 2018.  Aimed at new and emerging playwrights, this six month programme will provide intensive, hands-on development support for four writers, with an opportunity to showcase new work in the Naughton Studio in October 2018 as part of the Belfast International Arts Festival, showcasing the most exciting new voices in Irish theatre.

 

THE THREEPENNY OPERA

The Lyric Theatre and NI present Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s thrilling and darkly comic masterpiece.  Mack the Knife – gangster, celebrity, addict – secretly marries Polly Peachum, daughter of London’s most successful conman. Mr Peachum’s quest for revenge sets off a series of conflicts that expose the double dealings at the heart of society. How can anyone win when there is nobody left to trust?  Directed by Northern Ireland Opera Artistic Director Walter Sutcliffe, and conducted by Hard Rain Soloist Ensemble conductor Sinead Hayes.

31 Jan – 10 February

 

THE COLLEEN BAWN

Dion Boucicault’s exuberant tale of desire, duty and betrayal, based on an infamous true crime.

A financial crisis forces Hardress Cregan to choose between true love and family honour, a dilemma which leads to the forming of a horrifying plan.  Boucicault’s masterful interweaving of plot and character, comedy and suspense, has been captivating audiences since it premiere in 1860. A co-production with Bruiser Theatre Company, directed by Lisa May.

7 – 28 April

 

LOVERS: WINNERS & LOSERS

Brian Friel’s bittersweet meditation on love and loss, told in two parts: Winners and Losers.
In Winners we meet Joe and Mag, a young couple with their lives ahead of them, a secret between them, and a shadow over them. In Losers, Andy and Hanna cope with the unromantic reality of domestic life after the spark has gone out. Shot through with humour and pathos, Friel’s play has as much to say about Ireland’s shifting social attitudes as it does about love.
Directed by Emma Jordan.

12 May – 10 June

 

GOOD VIBRATIONS

The story of influential music promoter, producer and legendary founder of the record label – the undisputed Godfather of Belfast Punk, Terri Hooley – will be brought to the stage.  Good Vibrations tells the story of Terri Hooley, a radical, rebel and music-lover in 1970s Belfast when the conflict shuts down his city. As all his friends take sides and take up arms, Terri opens a record shop on ‘the most bombed half-mile in Europe’. Good Vibrations underlines the communal spirit of bands that gather up behind the record shop owner who won’t say no.  It celebrates energy, ideas, optimism, self-worth, and the empowerment of punk rock.  Adapted for the stage by the team who co-wrote the Good Vibrations biopic, Colin Carberry and Glenn Patterson, and directed by Des Kennedy.

1 – 30 September

 

ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND: The Musical
Following on from this year’s magical production, Beauty & the Beast, we bring you a magical musical version of Lewis Carroll’s much-loved classic tale for Christmas 2018.  Tumble down the rabbit hole with Alice in pursuit of the White Rabbit and discover the enchanting realm of Wonderland, where nothing is quite as it seems. Along her journey Alice will meet an eclectic assortment of strange and fantastical characters, including the fearsomely fickle Queen of Hearts…Music and lyrics by Paul Boyd.

29 Nov 18 – 05 Jan 19

 

10 FACTS ABOUT THE LYRIC

 

1.     The Lyric opened for business on Ridgeway Steet in 1968, and ‘Look Up in the Sun’s Eye’ is engraved on a foundation stone above its entrance.  The line was taken from a poem by Yeats in which he defends great art. The visionary founders of the Lyric, including Mary O’Malley, were motivated by the fundamental belief that society needs accessible spaces in which artists can have the courage of their convictions and be allowed to soar.

 

2.     The Lyric Theatre is Northern Ireland’s only full-time producing theatre, is the largest employer of actors in the region and represents the cornerstone of producing theatre.  Its mission is to produce high-quality professional theatre that is alive to our complex cultural experience, and to use the power of live theatre to empower, inspire, engage and educate.

 

3.     Following extensive capital development in 2011 on its existing site on the banks of the River Lagan, the new Lyric is almost three times the size of its predecessor.  A multi-level atrium connects the entrance with the 389-seat auditorium, where the faceted Iroko wood lining integrates stage lighting and improves acoustics. The building also contains a performance studio for up to 170 spectators, a rehearsal room that matches the size of the auditorium stage, and spacious lobbies and bars overlooking the river.  It was designed by Irish architects O’Donnell + Tuomey and its dramatic red Belfast brick, steel, concrete and timber was one of six buildings shortlisted for the 2012 Stirling Prize.

 

4.     Since the Lyric reopened in 2011, it and has attracted over ½ million audiences and played to a further 60,000 on tour.  It continues to be the largest employer of local theatre practitioners, providing over nearly 600 weeks of employment for actors. Contracts for freelance directors and designers ensures that the blossoming film and television industry continues to have the talent and expertise for it to grow.

 

5.     The Lyric’s Executive Producer, Jimmy Fay, has attracted international critical acclaim and toured homegrown theatre to New York, Dublin, London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Letterkenny, Cork, Perth and Wales. Productions have included actors such as Sir Kenneth Branagh, Simon Callow, Rob Brydon, Adrian Dunbar and Conleth Hill, and new co-productions with the Young Vic, the Dublin Theatre Festival, and the Abbey and Soho Theatre.  This year alone, the Lyric has received seven nominations for RED, a co-production with Prime Cut.

 

6.     The Lyric has premiered the works of internationally renowned playwrights such as Stewart Parker, Graham Reid, Martin Lynch, Marie Jones, Patrick Galvin, John Boyd, Christina Reid, Owen McCafferty, and provides opportunities for new playwrights through its Artist in Residence. The New Playwrights Programme provides a six month intensive, hands-on development support for emerging writers, and is followed by a showcase Belfast International Arts Festival in order to profile the most exciting new voices in Irish theatre.  In 2017 our first writer-in-residence David Ireland won the James Tait Black Award for his play Cyprus Avenue produced by the Abbey Theatre and the Royal Court in London. The recent appointment of a Literary Manager has significantly enhanced the theatre’s role in nurturing and developing young talent in every facet of theatre-making.

 

7.     The Lyric has nurtured the careers of several generations of Northern Ireland’s finest actors, including Adrian Dunbar, Dan Gordon, Conleth Hill, Ciarán Hinds, Stella McCusker, Frances Tomelty, Ian McIlhinney, Jimmy Ellis, Dan Gordon, and the Theatre’s patron, Liam Neeson.

 

8.     The Lyric is Northern Ireland’s most important resource for the professional development of young and aspiring artists. Since the new Lyric opened in 2011, the Creative Learning department has offered an extensive range of activities for people of all ages. Five weekly Theatre School classes offer over 100 children aged 6-18 the chance to learn more about Drama. The Drama Studio caters for 18-25 year olds serious about pursuing a career as professional actors: a staggering 33 in the last 7 years have gained places at Drama School. There are outreach activities to Primary & Secondary school pupils whilst Community projects engage with audiences across the country. Most recently, Blackout, a play about young people and crime, played in close to 40 venues last November and was seen by over 3,500 young people. Actors honing their performance skills, students and teachers actively wanting to know more, children and adults of all ages coming out to play to explore the process of making theatre – this is Creative Learning.  In 2018 one of our ‘alumni’ who credits the Lyric with preparing him for the future, Anthony Boyle will be on the Broadway stage as Scorpius Malfoy in the long awaited New York premiere of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

 

9.     Further 50th celebration announcements in the Spring will include:

–       In addition to over 15 visiting shows per month, new landmark productions for both Belfast and international audiences

–       A series of ‘In Conversation With’ events in partnership with the BBC Arts Show, profiling key figures associated with the Lyric

–       Two celebratory gala events which will be held in May and October.

 

10.  We aspire to remain faithful to the ‘prayers’ offered by Brian Friel on Sunday in 2011 when we re-opened the Lyric Theatre on Ridgeway St.  He prayed:

That the Lyric Theatre would be “a laboratory of questioning and scrutiny of untried thoughts and practices”. That the Lyric Theatre would “never forget that it is a playhouse, a house of play: and that laughter and merrymaking and wit and comedy and raucous fun and plain ordinary giddiness and giggling must be accommodated. Because a solemn theatre is a dead theatre. That Belfast “may reap the rewards of sustaining this theatre and that its excellence and excitement may find echoes in the daily lives of Belfast people.” That “all the creative people who donate their lives to theatre may find their reward…as they lift the veil again on those neglected values we need if we are to be fully human.”

 

 

KEY DATES

1968

The Lyric Theatre opens on 26 October 1968. The first productions staged are the four Yeats plays of The Cuchulain Cycle, directed by Mary O’Malley.

1977

Extension to theatre with improvements in stage areas, scenery dock and backstage accommodation.

2003

Following several years of research, planning and feasibility studies, architects O’Donnell + Tuomey win a major open competition to design a new home for the Lyric and a campaign is launched to raise funds to rebuild.

2008

The original theatre finally closes its doors to the public with a glittering gala on 13 January, attended by the Lyric’s Patron Liam Neeson. A private gathering of major players in the theatre’s history is held on stage shortly afterwards. The original theatre is demolished and the site is cleared in preparation.

2009

Construction begins in March 2009. A special ceremony is held on site on 10 September at which Seamus Heaney unveils a new Threshold Stone, engraved with a stanza from a poem he wrote in 1965 for the founding of the original theatre.

2010

A special ‘Topping Out’ event is held on 17 June 2010 as the last roof beam of the new theatre is put in place. The £18 million capital funding goal is finally reached in September.

2011

Details of the first season of plays to be staged in the new theatre are launched at a large gathering in City Hall in January. The new Lyric Theatre officially opens 1 may 2011. The rest production in the main auditorium is The Crucible, directed by Conall Morrison. The rest production staged in the Naughton studio is Brendan at the Chelsea, directed by Adrian Dunbar.

2012

The historic handshake – Her Majesty The Queen of England visits the Lyric and is greeted by First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

2015

12 Irish Times Theatre Awards resulting in 4 awards – Best Director, Selina Cartmell for Punk Rock. Best Set Design, Alyson Cummins for Pentecost. Best Lighting, Ciaran Bagnall for Pentecost. Best Costume Design, Mick Britton for How Many Miles to Babylon.

2017

David Ireland, who was the first Lyric Writer in Residence in 2011, won the James Tait Black Award, Britain’s oldest literary award for his play Cyprus Avenue.

 

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