Belfast’s Lyric Theatre will embark on a major reconstruction this week which aims to establish a world-class theatre for the Northern Ireland capital.
The £17m revamp, overseen by architect O’Donnell Tuomey and a raft of theatre design specialists, will provide improved facilities including an enlarged stage, an acoustically enhanced auditorium, an extra studio to support community projects, a much-needed rehearsal room, dressing rooms, bar and foyer. The Lyric will also be rebranded before opening to the public in 2010.
Lyric Theatre executive director Michael Diskin explains that the original 1960s-built theatre, which was last week levelled in preparation for construction, did not meet with the standards required of a working theatre. Holes in the roof resulted in stage floods over the years, while actors have been unable to use stage toilets during performances because of the levels of noise.
‘The theatre scene in Belfast up until now wasn’t developed in any way – the theatre never raised the amount of money it required to be built in the first place, so the design was compromised from the beginning.
Throw in the wonders of 1960s “concrete” designs and a lack of theatre consultancy, it’s no wonder it was compromised,’ says Diskin.
The brief is to build an international-class theatre on the site of the original Lyric plus the acquired adjoining property.
‘We want it to remain as a drama house, rather than becoming an all-purpose venue.
Also, drama is generally not seen as a social centre in Belfast, so we wanted a proper bar and proper foyer for audiences,’ he adds.
The new design, masterminded and overseen by O’Donnell Tuomey, will improve the theatre practically and aesthetically. The Dublinbased architect clinched the project in 2003, having won an international open design competition. It subsequently appointed a more comprehensive design team to specific areas of the project.
London consultancy Theatre Plan is advising on seating layout, equipment and systems, while Sound Space Design is assisting the design around acoustics. According to O’Donnell Tuomey project architect Mark Grehan, the Lyric Theatre will appoint a graphic designer to undertake the rebrand. Implementation of the new identity will extend to signage and information systems, he says.
Funding for the project has come from Northern Ireland’s Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, which donated £10m, while the Arts Council contributed £2m. The remainder has come from private donors.
• Actor Liam Neeson is the theatre’s patron
• The Lyric’s current home opened on 26 October 1968
• The theatre operated throughout the Troubles in Belfast during the 1960s and 1970s. A bomb outside the entrance disrupted one performance, according to executive director Michael Diskin, giving a new depth to the maxim, ‘The show must go on’
• Living Lyric is the theatre’s fundraising campaign, which still needs £500 000