Edge 6: Lyric Theatre,
Foreword by Mark Carruthers, Chairman of the Lyric Theatre
Architects’ plans and artists’ impressions are all very well, but hearing an architect talk with passion about the building he or she is designing is something else. Plans, by their very nature, are tricky to read for those of us without expertise in the area, and somewhat overwhelming, but hearing John Tuomey and Sheila O’Donnell talk about their vision for the new Lyric Theatre always made my heart skip a beat. Those of us wo were charged with guiding the Lyric through this most challenging period in its life had a clear idea of what we wanted from our new building, and John and Sheila gave voice to that in a very practical and beautiful way. At every step of the journey, it remained the case that their vision for the building was also our vision.
It says a great deal about the new Lyric that to many of the people who frequent it on a regular basis it doesn’t feel new anymore. In fact, it feels as if it’s always been there, tucked in where Ridgeway Street meets Stranmillis Embankment. Somehow the building seems to have absorbed the spirit of its 1960s predecessor, and turned to face the 21st century with a bold self-assurance that a theatre matters and Belfast is a confident city in which to make it.
Throughout the long and often difficult journey that led to the completion of the theatre, the Lyric team refused to compromise on its vision of building a theatre that would be both strinkingly beautiful and functional. That was the challenge we set our architects and our builders. That was also the pledge of our fundraising team when faced with the daunting task of having to raise over £18 million. That clear, unwavering commitment to doing the job properly is the reason we can now call the fabulous theatre ‘home’. And it is a fabulous theatre, The architects have met and surpassed the requirements of their brief, and the theatre’s staff and audiences now enjoy a working theatre which marries to near perfection the demands of functionality and style. What now stands at the bottom of Ridgeway Streest is on a scale way beyond what stood there before. The facilities are second to none: two state-of-the-art performance spaces, a full sized rehearsal room, cutting-edge education facilities, plentiful office space, ample and comfortable dressing rooms, two green rooms, a thriving café/bar, and what feels like acres of glorious foyer space.
(…) The actor Simon Callow has said on more than one occasion that the Lyric is the finest new theatre in the world, and he says he should know. Building a new theatre seems to me a thoroughly decent thing to do, a mark, perhaps, of a society’s maturity and self-confidence. Our greatest living playright, Brian Friel, put it very well when he said of the Lyric:
A new theatre can be the most exciting building in any city. It can be the home of miracles and epiphanies and revelations and renovations. And building a new theatre – especially in times like these – is both an act of fortitude and a gesture of faith in your community. Because what you are saying to that community is this: This is your playhouse. Come and play with us here. Give us your trust and in return we will entertain you and enlighten you and lead you in that secrete land of mystery and of the spirit.