O’Donnell & Tuomey’s joyful new building is the stuff of theatrical legends,
Theatres often like to cultivate a foundation myth around their buildings. From the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane, which has proudly occupied the same plot for almost 350 years, to the Young Vic in Waterloo – which had its “temporary” 1970s auditorium recently enshrined, relic-like, in a permanent casing – there is a thespian habit of maintaining an aura of significance around the sites of the beloved boards.
The story of the Lyric Theatre in Belfast is rather different. It started life 60 years ago in the window recess of the consulting room of Dr Pearse O’Malley and his wife Mary’s house, at 117 Lisburn Road. As the Lyric Players’ ambitions grew, and the O’Malleys moved house, performances took place in their narrow, converted stable loft. Sixteen years later – the theatre having swelled to incorporate a vibrant programme of recitals, lectures, exhibitions and a children’s drama school – it moved to its current site at the end of a sloping red-brick terrace in south Belfast, to occupy a purpose-built, 300-seat auditorium. It became much loved and continued operating as a neutral base throughout the Troubles, but lack of funds meant that dressing rooms, wardrobe and toilets had always remained outside, housed in flimsy portable buildings across a service yard. By 2003, the theatre was suffering from a leaky roof and was no longer fit for purpose...
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Originally published in BD, 15 June 2011