Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Mac's on track

With a helping hand from Hollywood star Meryl Streep, plans for OMAC's new theatre are off to a flying start



She came, she saw, she conquered ? Meryl Streep brought a splash of Hollywood to a wet Saturday afternoon in Belfast when she arrived at the Old Museum Arts Centre to spearhead the theatre's fundraising campaign.

Beautiful, passionate, intelligent and even a little mis chievous, Ms Streep held her audience in the palm of her hand as she spoke of her life as a performer, from her early days in musical theatre at high school, to life on the big screen.

Taking a break from filming Mamma Mia in London, the actor recalled how she had been performing as a maid in Uncle Vanya when she was spotted by Robert de Niro, who cast her in The Deer Hunter.

She spoke of her great-grandmother, whose Donegal roots inspired her in the role of Kate in Dancing at Lughnasa, and how the key to inhabiting a character is just to listen. She explained that she won't commit to theatrical projects until her youngest daughter finishes high school in a couple of years' time - which one audience member pointed out, would tie in rather well with the scheduled opening of the new Mac.

Ms Streep's key to success is a simple one - try hard, and remember to enjoy yourself. She stressed the transformative power of theatre to change communities, and urged artists here in Northern Ireland to tell the rest of the world what peace was like.

OMAC still needs £1.25m to pay for its new theatre. Saturday's gala dinner raised more than £100,000, far exceeding the £60,000. But where does one go after Meryl Streep has come for tea?

"This is just the start," said OMAC director Anne McReynolds. "We had two aspirations: fundraising, and raising our profile. There's no question that we've done that, but now we've got to capitalise on all the good feeling and unprecedented support we've received.

"We've plans for a lunch in the House of Lords, where we hope to convince some very influential people of the importance of our project.

"Meryl's agent, Kevin Huvane, accompanied her to Belfast. He's one of the biggest agents in Hollywood - he represents stars like Sarah Jessica Perker, Lindsay Lohan, Julianne Moore, Demi Moore, Nicole Kidman, Brad Pitt and Oprah Winfrey.

"He said: 'This is too good - you can't stop here.' So I asked if he'd help me in the future. All I will say is, watch this space!" We're watching, Anne!

Back to earth now, where the show must go on. Another theatre in the throes of fundraising for a new building is the Lyric, which closes its doors in Ridgeway Street at the end of the year.

But there's still time for four more productions. First up is a new version of Moliere's The Hypochondriac, from the pen of David Johnston. The action has been transported to Norn Iron, and the show will be directed by Dan Gordon. The cast includes Andy Gray (Scotland's May McFettridge, if you will), Bronagh Taggart, Sheelagh O'Kane, Miche Doherty and Kieran Lagan.

All this talk of rebuilding is a bit old hat for the Grand Opera House, which opened its new auditorium and studio space almost a year ago. The shows have been coming thick and fast ever since, and the theatre has just launched its autumn programme.

First up on the drama front is Paul Elliott's There's No Place Like A Home, which opens on September 4 with an all-star cast and plenty of laughs. On stage will be Gorden Kaye, Ken Morley, Don McLean, Brian Cant, Sue Hodge and Jan Hunt, and the action is inspired by the producer's own experiences and tales of backstage shenanigans.

Dramatic highlight of the season will undoubtedly be Theatre Royal Bath's production of Pygmalion, which arrives at the end of next month starring Tim Pigott-Smith as the manipulative Henry Higgins. Just you wait!



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