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Curtain rises on Lyric Theatre’s new £18m home

The doors to the new £18m Lyric Theatre in Belfast were thrown open yesterday as rehearsals for its debut production began.

The cast of 19 actors for Arthur Miller's classic play The Crucible took their first tentative steps onto the Northern Bank Stage, where the drama begins on May 1.

The mix of Lyric stalwarts and new faces got a sneak preview of the venue, which includes spacious dressing rooms, two auditoria and a rehearsal room.

The new rehearsal area is a welcome addition for acting talent, who previously practised lines in dilapidated buildings in conditions described as “Dickensian”.

Theatre-goers to the new venue will be impressed by the brightly-lit foyer, the plush new bar area and main auditorium, with 389 seats in a single tiered rake, providing optimum viewing of the stage. Wood features and red brick walls give a modern, clean look to the theatre, while the glass frontage in the foyer offers spectacular views of the River Lagan.

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.

Yesterday's rehearsal began with a read through of the script with cast, crew and staff gathered together for the first time.

They will work on The Crucible for four weeks in the theatre’s rehearsal room before moving onto the Northern Bank Stage.

A final week of technical rehearsals including costume, set, lighting and sound will climax in dress rehearsals and previews before the opening gala performance for funders and sponsors, followed by a five-week run expected to play to packed houses.

Director Conall Morrison said: “There are special and rare moments in a director’s career when a perfect job comes along.

“To be offered the chance to direct The Crucible as the opening show of the new theatre is an honour and a delight. I will do my very best to rise to the occasion.”

Actor Patrick O’Kane added: “The Crucible resonates just as profoundly today as it did in America in the 1950s.

“Miller's story of a community terrorised by its own paranoia, his rich characterisations and his relish of a muscular, theatrical language, mark The Crucible out as a genuine classic.”

Spotlight to shine on a star of the future

Over the past six decades the Lyric Theatre in Belfast has |provided a platform that has launched local talent onto an |international stage, including Liam Neeson, Ciaran Hinds and Conleth Hill.

More recently actors such as Martin McCann (Killing Bono), Gerard McCarthy (Hollyoaks) and West End star Rachel Tucker have all appeared on stage at the Lyric as they started on their journeys towards acting success.

This year the organisers of the glitzy Fate Awards have joined forces with the revamped Lyric Theatre and the Belfast Telegraph to find the next home-grown star to emerge from Northern Ireland.

The Rising Star Award will be presented to a new face who will help the theatre build upon its previous successes.

The winner — either an actor or writer — will be chosen by a panel of experts.

Six nominees have already been put forward by theatre companies across the province — Roisin Gallagher (actor); Conor MacNeill (actor); Stacey Gregg (writer); Terry Keely (actor); Kerr Logan (actor), and Niamh McGrady (actor), and one will be crowned Rising Star at the Fate Awards on April 15.

“When tourists travel to different countries, or even different towns and cities within the UK and Ireland, very often the product is the same,” said the Lyric’s artistic director Richard Croxford.

“What the Lyric offers, though, is product that is uniquely Northern Ireland and this is extremely important in helping to carve out a distinctive character for culture in this part of the world that helps to differentiate Belfast from, for example, Birmingham or Manchester.

“We are thrilled to be associated with the Belfast Telegraph Rising Star Fate Award 2011.

“So many fine actors took to the Lyric stage early in their |careers. It will be wonderful to see our next generation of talent take their first steps in the new theatre.”

Belfast Telegraph