It was a busy lunchtime yesterday with the launch of MissNI and the launch of the Spring Summer programme for the Lyric Theatre. I have to give each event it’s own place to shine on Belfast Times so I’ll kick things off with the Lyric launch.
We were very excited about this launch because the wonderful Simon Callow was due to attend and take part in the launch of the programme and to announce his Easter play, The Man Jesus.
Simon Callow is famous for his Royal Shakespeare performances and the hit film Four Weddings and a Funeral and he will star in the premiere of The Man Jesus by Matthew Hurt at the Lyric, which is due to start on Easter weekend.. The one-man play examines Jesus, the human, in a thought-provoking drama on the Danske Bank Stage in Holy Week and runs until 20 April.
Simon Callow said: “I can barely express my excitement at appearing on the stage of the most beautiful new theatre in Europe, at returning to the city where I studied and where I did my first acting, and at being involved in the world premiere of Matthew Hurt’s deeply moving new play about Jesus.”
Callow, who was a student at Queens University, was joined by local writer, Marie Jones to launch the theatre’s new programme which is dominated by a special season of plays, films and talks about Belfast to mark the city’s 400th birthday this year.
Marie reminisced about growing up in Belfast, and of the great sense of community and togetherness. She talked about her classic comedy, Weddins, Weeins and Wakes which returns to the Lyric in June and July, and how it has evolved over the years.
After the launch we were treated to some bottles of Belfast Lager and Belfast Baps, while Simon and Marie mingled with the invited guests. At one point I overheard Simon being asked to come out to the foyer for some official photographs, but he laughed and said ‘Let me have another Belfast Bap first’, that’s how much he loves Belfast, our Lyric Theatre, our culture and our food. I have to say though, the baps were delicious!
But back to the programme, and the first play which previews from this weekend is Mixed Marriage by St. John Ervine which tells the story of a respectable Protestant father who acts to calm the sectarian tension being stirred up by politicians for their own ends. Set on the eve of the Ulster Covenant, John Rainey successfully unites Catholic and Protestant against the machinations of the factory owners, the nationalists and the Orangemen. But at home, it is a different matter altogether when he discovers that his son wants to marry a Catholic.
The playwright, St. John Ervine was a distant cousin of the late PUP leader David Ervine and recent events have given this masterpiece about Belfast and sectarianism alarming topicality. Mixed Marriage runs on the Danske Bank Stage from 27 January to 23 February.
No season of Belfast plays could be complete without one of the city’s most famous families on stage or screen. The Lyric has commissioned Love, Billy, the fifth instalment in the now legendary series of Billy plays. First televised by the BBC in the 1980’s, as part of the infamous Play for Today series, the Billy plays by Graham Reid made a huge impact not only across the island of Ireland but also the whole of the United Kingdom.
Love, Billy, which has its world premiere at the Lyric this May, sees Billy Martin returning to Belfast after 25 years, having left mysteriously without telling anyone. He comes back to a city that he hardly recognises and family grudges to resolve.
There is a chance to see the Billy plays on screen again as part of a season of free films about Belfast in the Naughton Studio in association with BBC Northern Ireland and Belfast Film Festival. This series of dramas and documentaries begins in February and runs for a week in April.
Another premiere in the season’s programme is the first play written for the Lyric by former Playwright-in-Residence David Ireland, one of Northern Ireland’s hottest young writing talents. Ireland has teamed up with star of stage and screen, Conleth Hill (Game of Thrones) who directs the romantic comedy, Can’t Forget About You.
Following a painful break-up, 25-year-old east Belfast man, Stevie meets and falls in love with a woman twice his age. Their fledgling relationship is challenged by the expectations of Stevie’s conservative Christian mother and his ultra-unionist, Ulster-Scots-speaking sister who work hard to break the pair up. While primarily a very funny comedy, Can’t Forget About You touches on deeper themes such as grief, loss, sexual mores, cultural identity, sectarianism and the question of how Northern Ireland moves on from the politics of the past and faces the future.
No Belfast season could be complete without our famous banter and to this end, the Lyric is hosting a series of City Conversations with well-known personalities about the impact Belfast has had on their life and work. The series begins on 3 March when esteemed Northern Ireland poet, Michael Longley will discuss his work with BBC Arts presenter, Marie-Louise Muir.
Architect John Tuomey, whose design for the Lyric Theatre was short-listed for the prestigious Stirling Prize, will be speaking about his award-winning practice on 21 April.
Contemporary artist, Colin Davidson – the man behind the eye-catching portraits in the Lyric’s foyer – and playwright Marie Jones will be ‘in conversation’ on 12 May and 6 July respectively.
For those who fancy a break from the Belfast theme, the Lyric teams up with Perth Theatre and director Rachel O’Riordan to stage The Seafarer by acclaimed writer Conor McPherson, best known for his hugely popular play, The Weir. This darkly funny play tells the tale of fisherman-turned-chauffeur James ‘Sharky’ Harkin who returns to his family home in Dublin where he battles the demon drink. But when Sharky joins a Christmas Eve poker game with a mysterious stranger, he finds the stakes higher than he first realised. The Seafarer runs from 28 February to 23 March on the Danske Bank Stage.
The Lyric Theatre is also excited to announce a range of recession-busting discounts and concessions to suit everyone’s pocket. These include discounted tickets for previews and early run matinees; students and unwaged £10 tickets for off-peak performances; £10 Standby Sunday tickets; and our very successful £5 Community Group Ticket Scheme.
For more information on the Lyric’s season or to book, go to www.lyrictheatre.co.uk or contact the Box Office on (028) 9038 1081.