|THE LYRIC THEATRE: BACKGROUND
The Lyric is Northern Ireland’s only full-time producing theatre. Established in 1951, the theatre was born when Mary and Pearse O’Malley transformed the back rooms of their house in Derryvolgie Avenue into a drama space. In the 1960s the scale of work expanded considerably and the Lyric Players became a non-profit-making organisation with the aim of building a new theatre. In 1968, a new Lyric Theatre opened on Ridgeway Street on the bank of the River Lagan.
Over the next 50 years the Lyric established itself as Northern Ireland’s leading producing theatre, premiering the works of playwrights such as Stewart Parker, Martin Lynch, Marie Jones and Christina Reid. Their works were often performed by some of Northern Ireland’s finest actors, including Adrian Dunbar, Dan Gordon, Conleth Hill, Ciaran Hinds, Stella McCusker, Frances Tomelty and the Theatre’s patron, Liam Neeson.
In 1998 the Board of the theatre took the decision to redevelop the theatre. Substantial grants were approved by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and a major fundraising campaign was launched.
In May 2011 the new £18.1m theatre opened, offering a 390 seat main auditorium, the 170 seat Naughton Studio, a modern rehearsal room and meeting rooms, and a spacious café bar with stunning views overlooking the river Lagan. Designed by O’Donnell + Tuomey, and built in a stunning blend of Belfast brick, glass, steel, concrete and Iroko timber, the new theatre is a thriving social hub, creative learning space and a real attraction for visitors to the city.
The new theatre’s opening production, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, won praise from audiences and critics alike, and set the tone for subsequent Lyric productions which have included traditional and contemporary plays including Sean Foley’s The Painkiller starring Kenneth Branagh and Rob Brydon, Simon Callow’s one man show The Man Jesus, Adrian Dunbar in Brendan at the Chelsea, and the 25th anniversary production of Brian Friel’s masterpiece Dancing at Lughnasa.
Complementing the plays on the two Lyric stages is the theatre’s Creative Learning Department which co-ordinates its work in schools and the community, and which also runs regular theatre courses for children and adults. The Lyric’s acclaimed Drama Studio provides specialists training for young actors, with its students regularly securing places at the top UK and Irish drama schools.
Since re-opening the Lyric has collected a large number of awards for the theatre, its artistic programme and its operations, including six Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards, a Cultural Diversity Award and an Outstanding Contribution to Tourism award.