Makeover for Lyric Theatre…

ARTS lovers will be delighted to learn that the Lyric Theatre is to be rebuilt, after the Government announced a £12m investment scheme today. Despite theatre’s sometimes stuffy image, the Lyric has always been a pleasure to visit.

  • James Orr

    Why do luvvies get so much public money? If the Lyric can’t generate its own revenue it is a defacto commercial failure and should close.

  • garret

    Yet again we see government money poured into a unionist area of Belfast while no money is given to theatres in nationalist Derry.

  • Gonzo

    That would leave NI without any full-time theatre though.

    It’s not like the Opera House… the Lyric caters for a diverse range of tastes, and the performances I’ve seen (few, admittedly) were very good.

    If the Government abandoned the arts completely, would that really be a good thing?

  • Chris Gaskin

    I agree Gonzo

    A fantastic theatre that not only serves Belfast but many schools across the North.

    I have found their style very brave and they don’t shy away from the more controversial plays.

    More working-class people are starting to attend the theatre as it loses it’s stuffy image.

  • James Orr

    It’s like Lottery grants – stealing from the poor to give to the rich (well, the middle classes anyway).

    Entertainment venues should be commercial ventures. Survive or die. There’s a vast amount of public money being sunk into loss-making venues (the new stadium at the Maze will be another example of this.)

    I’m not a theatre-goer so I have no emotional attachment to the Lyric or any other theatre (Millennium Forum garret?). £12m is a lot of money which could be spent more effectively – perhaps on broader folk culture – rather than elitist venues which attract a clientele who have the highest disposable incomes.

  • jim c

    The goverment has no problems pumping 12 mill into a building which will be used largely by a selective few.A selective few who have little of the money worries that most of us ‘ordinary people’ have.

    We will no doubt get the usual eegits on television talking about community drama and how the ‘ordinary ‘people will benifit from the new building,well they would say that,thats how they earn their comfortable salaries.

    Spend it on something worthwhile ,like a new leisure facility to replace Maysfield Leisure Centre,at least us ‘ordinary’ people would get some benefit.

  • Gonzo

    Is the Lyric really elitist?

  • jim c

    “Is the Lyric really elitist?”

    Apart from the christmas panto,i would say yes.

  • Miniclubman

    Who are these mythical “ordinary” people. Funny I never see them when I am shopping in Dunnes or Tesco or Spar. Who are they? Who are the unordinary people? Will these people please start wearing some sort of ID so that I can spot an “ordinary” person in my local greengrocers. Do they only buy spuds and ignore the mange touts? Enlighten me please.
    I hope the Lyric has some sort of security system to spot these ordinary people so that none of them will lower the tone of the place.

  • Chris Gaskin


    As a person who attends regularly I would say no but some of the people who attend can be snobby.

    That said it comes with the territory but it is beginning to change.

  • Alan

    Actually the area that the theatre sits in is very mixed indeed, which includes mixed ethnicities, not just the bog boring protestant catholic mix that Garret grinds on about. I also happened to attend a production at the Millenium Forum (Derry) last year when there were only 14 in the audience. Now I am sure that the figures are better than that most of the time.

    We need some professional theatre in the country for all of those teenage wannabees to get their first break. You are unlikely to get a starring role in Holywood with a school production of Grease as your only credit. The theatre also seems to work with schools, does run summer schemes and generally get involved.

    We are begining to have a better mix of pieces put on, but it would be nice to see something reflecting where we are now politically. The Lyric hit its nadir a few years ago with a dire, red flag waving version of Dockers, but it has moved forward.

  • james Orr

    The £12m is committed, so why not make the best possible use of it by campaigning for a credible “community” dimension to be added to it – so that it’s used 7 days a week by as many people as possible and not just the luvvies.

    Maybe the ground floor should be opened up for wider (ie not necessarily theatrical-related) use by ornery folk.

    However, from their web site:

    “… It is anticipated that the new Lyric Theatre will be an iconic international building, and a source of great civic pride to the people of Northern Ireland.

    Additional facilities provided for the benefit of the community within the new building will include: an enlarged 400-seat auditorium designed to encourage and intensify the intimacy currently enjoyed by audiences at the Lyric; a studio theatre for youth, community and education activities; full access for people with disabilities; spacious foyers, riverside bar and café opening onto a landscaped terrace; and new backstage and production facilities…”

    Sounds like just another one of those bland run-of-the-mill buildings to me – just like the Armagh Market Place, Lisburn’s Island Arts Centre, Millennium Forum etc etc etc … yawn.

  • Jo

    Almost all theatres lose money as the only way to make them commercially viable is to have ticket prices at West End type price levels – not desirable for a provincial theatre trying to make itself reachable for ALL. I worked in the theatre some time back and there was always a heated but principled discussion on raising the ticket price – as this would make it less likely that working class people could afford it. It might be no suprise to some that the late John Hewitt, who sat on the theatre Board, would have been of that view. The Lyric has been the lunching point for many Northern playwrights and actors – Graham and Christina Reid, Martin Lynch and many others.
    Its something to be proud of, not sniped at as the playground of the well-off.

  • Jamie

    The overall cost of the project is set to be £12m but half of that is coming direct from Government, £2m from the Lottery via the Arts Council (of course one of the founding aims of the National Lottery was to support the arts and culture) with the Lyric having to put together the remainder of around £3m. It’s important to think of the figures in that context.

    The Lyric seems already to reach out quite a bit to the community (with schools outreach during the summer, exhibitions in the foyer during the day, hosting amateur drama competitions, performances with Sign Language for deaf people) but this funding will encourage them to do even more in this area, which can only be a good thing.

  • Leviathan

    So the Lyric is getting more money from public funds, than the WHOLE of Irish League football? It is a disgrace! It is being all fixed up and given an extra 100 seats with fixed toilets, and Irish League grounds are falling apart all around the country!

    Is it that these people generally have a better idea about how to apply for these grants and loans?

  • James Orr

    I suspect the people who allocate the money are theatre-going types themselves, and unlikely to go to the next local football match.

    There was a celebrated case not so long ago where the Lottery Fund gave a London-based Jamaican poet over £30K to go back to Jamaica to “seek inspiration” for 6 months , whilst in the same breath refusing a lesser amount for a war memorial in Teeside.

    It sucks.

  • George

    12 million pounds isn’t much to give theatre goers so I don’t know why people are begrudging them it.

    After all, in the Irish Republic horse racing got a whopping 200 million euros over five years last year and that’s a commercial venture too. The national Abbey Theatre is still being funded hand over fist without questions despite the people at the helm running it in a very shoddy manner that has led to losses last year of 1.8 million.

    I’m sure Northern Ireland’s horse racing fraternity has received more than 12 million euros in the last few years.

  • Very Concerned

    Some people are joking above: “is the Lyric Theatre elitist”. I see what is meant is that the Grand Opera House, and anywhere in the centre of Belfast where more than a hundred people can enter, offers nearly nothing normally “artistic”. Show culture, yes, but normal “arts” life, no. Considering visiting productions, when they do come to the Grand Opera House and they sometimes do, putting Joseph aside, like the expected Rebecca, they are most often slightly or more evidently “lower bracket”. Daphne Du Maurier was never high culture.

    The other reason why I can see the very normal British / Irish theatre (the only one in the capital that isn’t a small studio theatre) Lyric Theatre performing programme can be reasonably called elitist is because of the Grand Opera House’s bewildering policy for years (basically recognised as a panto place with productions chosen to match this reputation during the year). Their stuff, aside from the nearby studio theatre, was complemented only in the centre for some time by productions in the recently closed amateur theatre housing Group Theatre.

    This was so since over five years ago, when for some reasons no-one wanted to comment on, the other theatre in the capital, the Civic Arts Theatre was closed.

    And now, of course, the peasants are shutting down the Lyric to add new capacity for under a hundred people where the capital’s main theatre auditorium already is. This is crucial of course, that the place and so theatre has to be shut down is unconsidered by many (for 90 extra seats and a small studio theatre nearly in the suburbs while nothing for those who like the arts down where all the buildings are), whilst allowing for the continued destruction of Belfast.
    This commentator is not nihilistically paranoid, but does not deny what he sees. The only apparent answer to abominable and unforgivable mistakes in the past and the continuing unforgivable situation is that, no, it can only get worse, that is how we save it. NOT! (Of course. The headache is being made more phsyical for all to see where certainly no headache exists now). “To attract visitors”. Really? A handful more? While keeping on Joseph or Thunderdome in the Opera House. The new building, not only much worse than the first runner up which is lovely, and much worse than the nice building which is now on the Laganside, but absolutely abominable anyway. It is a sore head, at the very least.

    With regard to the term elitist, it is a joke and it isn’t a joke (the arts policy is the joke and architecture policy, or rather that those in control have not looked up the meaning of “culture” yet).

    But the commentators above have hit the nail on the head, and the apparent elitism of having a lovely, smallish but actually good sized and also indeed perfect sized theatre, certainly for where it is, one or two miles out from the centre, is not enough. It must be shut for a while, destroyed of course, this goes with getting away with shutting it naturally, (who would guess just who would be able to do this) and a terrible sore head put in its place.
    I can’t help but note as I have read elsewhere, that this is part of the existential torture not only of the current 20 to 40 year old generation and that above, but then also of the youngest generation now, by removing the buildings of our recent heritage. Identity depletion. The removal of the notion of respect to within at least a century: “you can’t get the really old ones”. The most terrible plan I can think of. Annhiliate the 20th Century in all wherever you find it, I seem to see. This was the most enlightened century yet of course, before the serious, hardly mentioned depression which followed. Perhaps you need to talk about this in order to get better. Rather than just build over the old and loved theatre, and our identity before you can see what you are doing.

  • Very Concerned Explains Further

    Regarding the twentieth century, it was something of an axial-pole outcome. The tragicness and atrocities and depression and that which was beyond confusion are parts of the cenutry which are often comment upon. The other side, the enlightened side, the enlightenment existing of the 20th Century was more than all of previous enlightenment of our times. And subtleness and strength and unquestioningness and awareness of vastness in all kinds of ways. And vision which is I suppose the most inspirational, perhaps the most eternal. It is the resting point, only resting, naturally, of truth, of the truth which has lived up until then, but now is nearly nowhere to be found, often except for in these contexts.

    Don’t remove our remaining heritage of this which falls on the good or great side, like the Lyric Theatre, South Belfast. This great side must be retained it seems to me, while the poorer or less successful products of such enlightenment, great enligthenment often still, and nearly always some of the most humanist, and truly humanist, architecture visible (or perhaps esoteric, hard to touch enlightenment), for example the less well appreciable concrete blocks of flats, are more ripe to be lost if anything of our most treasurable recent history is to be lost. It seems to me we have to keep these, and not show contempt among other things, at least, or we will be false. We are eating our feet in more ways than one.

    Don’t do the opposite to what we need. Especially as this can’t be rectified.

    While the runner up building in the Lyric Theatre competition which I have just found on the web shows a nice appreciation of a European society in confusion, and the sheer depth gladly is well appreciated, this is still a very nice building, perhaps, after initial impressions settling as an evolved classic, and shows an accpetance and awareness of the state of society and is forward looking in its vision of amenity and also welcoming and comforting, and much else besides which is what is sought. It is aware of the future, the mind and the human and our needs.

    What is planned beside our Lagan near to the university and regional museum, is hideous and an everyday expression to us of sickness which is not going to dissolve. What on earth is it? What is planned to be?

    Ashamed makeshift mongrel culture, this a front for something worse. Is the point to have a social focal point for individuals to screw up their eyes and in neo-romantic imagination, harking back to the century gone, without emotion, or substance or even earthly placement, and this reaction a folly, holding back something terrible to present itself to come.

    The building design shows an anti-appreciation of modernism and of what came after, and then, making things obvious, of deco (in lettering) of sixties and seventies design styles (easy now the nearest would not be seen), of socialist deco design such that we see in Belfast, of arts and crafts. Unless it’s “all brilliant”, and above proper saltutation or reference here.

    It is someone pissing at a tortured person who embodies the 20th Century, is the 20th Century. That is all. It has no redeeming features except perhaps in the unexpected interest in interpretation, wrongly and deviantly, of the Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood as an anti-society landmark and a natural end to developing design culture. A building for the man and woman who don’t thinkg they ever should identify with architecture. The beginning of architecture as destructionism? And it gives in its very shapes the sorest head and eyes I have ever experienced in seeing any building design.

  • B.W.

    Jim C says, “The goverment has no problems pumping 12 mill into a building which will be used largely by a selective few.A selective few who have little of the money worries that most of us ‘ordinary people’ have.”

    And no problems with 12 million where there is a theatre today. The select few might only be added to by a small number. It is not as if all this money is intended to bring many more people to see larger scale theatre or even anything new which isn’t there.

    The new plan seems negative and elitist as the money could go into ways to induce people who don’t normally go to see the theatre to go to see the theatre instead of only getting a small number of new people along. These would be tourists probably as we are told tourist numbers are increasing every year but not even many for here.

    It can’t be a favourable idea for those in the tourist parts of government considering the load of money for where there is a popular theatre. The small theatre addition would mostly only do the opposite of this and be frequented by the normal patrons.

  • G.M.C.

    The best way to spend the money in enticing more people to go to the theatre is simply to reopen the Civic Arts Theatre. Diversity is the best option. With things looking like they might turn out as publicised, it seems we are getting nothing new but losing a lot of money.

    55 million for a huge, huge stadium and much more at an enterprise at Maze. Yet 12 million proposed at the site which whatever happens will remain the main repertory theatre of the province.

    How far would this latter sum go with the Civic Arts Building being modernised? I’m getting to rubbing thumbs and fists but I can only think that at such a sum for the stadium and so much more, that is a huge figure for the small site of the Lyric Theatre. And what is more I imagine just how far it would go in terms of seeing diversity of arts in an easily updated Arts Theatre and an old, sensitively and easily updated Lyric, rather than just for bricks and glass, experienced in any case anyway.