With only 100 days remaining until the grand re-opening, the Lyric Theatre today announced highlights from its dramatic first season in a spectacular new £18.1million building on the banks of the River Lagan.
Tickets go on sale at 10am on Monday 24 January for a season that sees familiar names such as Kenneth Branagh, Rob Brydon and Adrian Dunbar sharing the spotlight with the next generation of theatre talent, including Nicholas Lloyd Webber.
The new Lyric Theatre will open on 1 May with a gala performance of The Crucible by Arthur Miller on the Northern Bank Stage. Other highlights include Martin Lynch’s Dockers, Kenneth Branagh and Rob Brydon in The Painkiller, and family musicals The Jungle Book and The Little Prince. And opening the Naughton Studio will be the European premiere of Brendan at the Chelsea, a bio drama of Brendan Behan, written by his niece Janet and brought to the stage by Adrian Dunbar, who will direct and lead the cast as Behan.
“When we took the first steps on the journey to rebuild our home almost a decade ago we could only imagine the day we would unveil our new programme – but that time has come at last,” said Lyric Chairman Mark Carruthers OBE.
“This project has never been about just bricks and mortar. We were always focussed on a bigger vision – a new landmark building which would be both functional and handsome, certainly – but more than that, we wanted to build a real home for everyone with an interest in theatre, and one that will play a central role in the cultural and economic development of Northern Ireland.”
“On the Lyric stages you will see a diverse repertoire of classical, popular and contemporary drama,” promised Artistic Director Richard Croxford. “Having a new, flexible studio space will enable us to be more daring whilst providing a wonderful base for our creative learning and development programmes. And, in a first for the Lyric, you will be able to drop in for a Sunday morning coffee or afternoon performance.
“From the intimacy of the Northern Bank Stage to the energy of the Naughton Studio, and from the youthful creativity of the McGrath Suite to the vibrancy of the Café/Bar overlooking the Lagan, the new Lyric Theatre will be alive and dramatic at all times.”
Arts Council Chairman Rosemary Kelly OBE said: “As the longest-running principal sponsor of the Lyric, the Arts Council is pleased to continue its support with an investment of £2.4million in the new state-of-the-art theatre.
“Over the past 40 years in its previous home, the Lyric provided an outstanding cultural programme, generating some of the most stimulating and groundbreaking theatre ever seen in Ireland. It looks like that trend is set to continue in 2011 with the exciting season programme that has been announced today.”
Commenting on the shows in the opening season, Richard Croxford added: “We are delighted to be opening the theatre with Arthur Miller’s critically acclaimed play The Crucible which will be directed by Conall Morrison. One of the Lyric’s key roles is as the main employer of local actors and this large ensemble piece will allow us to show off the cream of current and up and coming talent.”
Laughter beckons with The Painkiller, a new comedy produced by Kenneth Branagh and Sean Foley and pairing Branagh on stage with Rob Brydon. Sean and Kenneth’s first collaboration was in 2001, with Hamish McColl. Their production of The Play What I Wrote won the Olivier Award for Best Comedy after its West End run. The Painkiller is a comedy by Francis Veber in a new adaptation by Sean Foley.
Kenneth Branagh said: “The Painkiller is a remarkable play. Sean Foley, the Director, is a fantastic talent, familiar to Belfast audiences. When he showed me his modern adaptation of Francis Veber's farce, I knew I wanted to be involved. It's also a particular thrill to partner on stage with the brilliant Rob Brydon. I was lucky enough to begin my career with Graham Reid's 'Billy', in my home town of Belfast, exactly 30 years ago. I feel equally lucky to be back, and at the Lyric.”
Rob Brydon added: “This is my first stage play and I couldn't be more pleased than to be working alongside as great a talent as Kenneth Branagh, under the direction of the excellent Sean Foley. It's exciting to be part of the re-opening of the Lyric; it looks like it's going to be a great venue and I can't wait to get to Belfast and get started.”
An early play of popular local playwright Martin Lynch can be seen at the Lyric with the 30th anniversary production of Dockers. This quintessential play about working class Belfast in the 60s was written while Martin was a young playwright-in-residence at the theatre and this new production will be directed by Andrew Flynn.
The Lyric has two family treats in store. The Jungle Book, faithful to Rudyard Kipling’s original story of Mowgli, adapted by Neil Duffield with original music by Conor Mitchell, will keep the theatre packed during the summer months. Richard Croxford, renowned for his previous Lyric family productions including The Wizard of Oz, Charlotte’s Web and The Snow Queen, will direct.
And the Lyric has scored a coup in securing the world premiere in December of a musical by the next generation of the Lloyd Webber theatre dynasty. Nicholas Lloyd Webber has collaborated with James D. Reid and Mick Gordon on a new adaptation of Saint-Exupéry’s timeless children’s tale, The Little Prince.
“There is no better occasion to fully appreciate the splendour and scale, ambience and ambition of the building than during our opening festival fortnight,” said Richard Croxford. “The Lyric will be bursting at the seams with activity in every corner of the building. This special festival gives many reasons to visit during the opening weeks. Listen to inspirational speakers from the world of theatre, enjoy readings of new and classic plays, and take part in an amazing array of workshops for audiences young and old, or simply pop in for coffee and a snack while you digest the daily papers.
“The Lyric will be a new cultural hub for Northern Ireland. In years to come, you will want to look back and say you were there at the very start!”
Tickets can be booked from Monday 24 January at 10am online at www.lyrictheatre.co.uk, by phoning (028) 9038 1081 or in person at the Lyric’s temporary offices at Crannog House, 44 Stranmillis Embankment.