The curtain finally lifted on the new £18m Lyric Theatre last night after a two-year wait.
For the 19-strong cast of The Crucible, last night’s first performance represented the culmination of five weeks of intense rehearsals.
The specially invited audience was made up of donors who helped make the new state-of-the-art building a reality.
Arthur Miller’s 1953 play is one of the largest shows the Lyric has ever produced.
“Nerves are part of any performance, but tonight the cast know the stakes are even higher, given that it’s the first ever performance in the theatre,” artistic director Richard Croxford said last night.
“The Crucible is a big play with a big cast of 19 actors. For the actors adding an audience after weeks of rehearsals is always a special occasion.
“They are excited to feel the intimacy between themselves and the audience.
“The old theatre was known for its intimacy and the architects worked especially hard to retain that aspect,” Mr Croxford added.
Donor performances continue through the weekend with the first ‘paying public’ night on Tuesday and the official opening on Thursday.
Fundraising for the new theatre, built on its old site at Ridgeway Street, began in 2003 and was supported by local acting heavyweights including Kenneth Branagh and Liam Neeson.
It took almost two years to construct the new building, which includes a 389-seat main auditorium, a new studio, dedicated youth and education space and improved facilities for staff and artists.
The theatre, which stands on the edge of Stranmillis, perched among trees, is almost three times the size of the old one.
There is much brick and daylight and views of trees, which gives the building a 1960s Scandinavian feel.
Lyric chairman Mark Carruthers described the building as a “home” for all those who love theatre.
“We were always focused on a bigger vision — a new landmark building which would be both functional and handsome, certainly — but more than that, we wanted to build a real home for everyone with an interest in theatre, and one that will play a central role in the cultural and economic development of Northern Ireland,” he said.
The original theatre opened on Lisburn Road in 1951 and moved to Ridgeway Street about 20 years later. Generations of local talent have come through the Lyric, including actors Liam Neeson, Ciaran Hinds and Adrian Dunbar, and writers Patrick Galvin, John Boyd, Martin Lynch and Marie Jones. The new theatre includes an education suite, green room, box office, bar and River Terrace.