The performing arts in Northern Ireland scaled new heights today as the Lyric reached the highest point in the construction of its new theatre. With the core building structure complete, the theatre has now cemented its place within a new Belfast skyline in its state-of-the-art home on Ridgeway Street.
As the last roof beam was put in place major capital donors, sponsors and dignitaries gathered on the roof to celebrate the ‘Topping Out’. Among these present were Lyric Chairman Mark Carruthers, Architect, John Tuomey from award-winning O’Donnell-Tuomey and Chief Executive Ciaran McAuley.
Built in ‘Belfast’ brick, the new building is three times the size of the old theatre and has three distinct areas; a 390 seat auditorium, a second performance studio for experimental work, and a rehearsal room.
Today’s event mirrored another symbolic occasion in the Lyric’s rich history. Forty five years ago, in June 1965, supporters of the Lyric Players gathered on the very same site to lay the Foundation Stone of the original theatre.
Welcoming guests to the Lyric’s Topping Out event, Mark Carruthers, Lyric Chairman, said: “This is another important milestone for the Lyric. Just a year away from opening our doors to the public we are proud to be able to say that we have reached the highest point in the building phase - and the project is on time and on budget.
The response we have had from members of the public as they see the building beginning to take shape on our spectacular riverside site is fantastic. So many people have worked so hard to get the project to this stage - and this is a way of saying thank-you to them and celebrating the tremendous success of the venture so far.”
Speaking at the roof-top event overlooking the River Lagan, John Tuomey said: “We are delighted to see the Lyric reach ‘Topping Out’. The structure is up, the scale and volume of the building is established on the skyline and can be seen reflected in the river. What has been done so far makes us confident that this will be a very special building. There are many challenges making such a complex building on such a special site. Now that we have reached the half way point, we can begin to realise our first aspirations; that the design of the new Lyric would belong to its particular place, connecting the brick street architecture of Belfast to the sylvan landscape setting of the Lagan.”
The £18 million theatre, built by contractor Gilbert Ash, is one of the major capital projects recently undertaken in the arts and has received support from The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, The Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Belfast City Council as well as many other donors and high profile supporters.
Arts Minister Nelson McCausland said: “I am delighted to see the progress which has been made on the new theatre since my last visit in September and that my Department’s contribution of over £9m is producing such tangible results. It is a prime example as to how the Northern Ireland Executive is building a better future for us all. Investment in the arts is a key contributor to physical, social and economic regeneration and, even in the current tough economic climate, it is important to recognise the contribution which arts and culture makes to our society. I look forward to attending the first performance in the new Lyric Theatre when it opens for business next year.”
Chairman of The Arts Council for Northern Ireland Rosemary Kelly OBE, said: “As the longest-running principal sponsor of the Lyric Theatre, the Arts Council is pleased to extend its support by investing £2.4million in the theatre’s new state-of-the-art premises. Over the last 40 years, the Lyric has played a vital part in our cultural heritage and arts infrastructure. It is one of our key partners in the Arts Council’s ongoing strategy for building new audiences in Northern Ireland and we are hugely excited about the next chapter in its history. The new building will meet the growing demands of local audiences and provide Belfast with an outstanding new drama space of which it can truly be proud.”
Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Pat Convery, hailed the Lyric Theatre as a project destined to provide a lasting legacy for the city. “Belfast City Council is delighted to support this regeneration of our city’s cultural offering and its enhancement of our tourism product. The social, cultural and economic benefits from this investment will be enormous,” he said.
More information on the new theatre