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Belfast theatres have little to offer working classes and Protestants in particular, claims DUP MLA William Humphrey


DUP MLA William Hunphrey

DUP MLA William Hunphrey

Liam Neeson

Liam Neeson

Kenneth Branagh

Kenneth Branagh


DUP MLA William Hunphrey

A DUP MLA has come under fire after demanding top Belfast theatres must do more to "reach out" to the working classes.

William Humphrey accused the recently reburished Lyric and year-old Mac of having "little to offer" people living in areas of Belfast like Ballygomartin, Ballymurphy or Ballymacarrett.

The North Belfast member also said the Protestant working class in particular does not "buy into" the arts at any great level.

His comments came as unionists clashed with Sinn Fein Culture and Arts Minister Caral Ni Chuilin who argued both theatres "reach out" to potential new audiences.

He said: "There is a huge problem with the working class community and, in particular, with the Protestant working class.

"The concept of 'the arts' is not something which the Protestant working-class community in this city buys into at any great level. Decisions by Belfast City Council and the regional government on investment in the Lyric and the MAC have been of great benefit and I welcome them.

"However, I am not so sure that they offer a tangible benefit to the people in Ballygomartin, Ballymurphy or Ballymacarrett."

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Ms Ni Chuilin said: "I have been to the MAC and the Lyric, and they are trying their best to outreach to communities that have been hard to reach in the past. They are trying not to do that in a patronising and piecemeal way."

Playwright, director and actor Dan Gordon said: "I can see (Mr Humphrey's) point but it is rather harsh and unfair.

"I think as a leader who admits he hasn't been to the theatre he should be doing more to encourge the arts and people to go and see something other than 'Whoops There Goes My Panties'."

The Sunday Life columnist added: "The Lyric has done a lot of outreach work and even won awards for it."

Veteran playwright Martin Lynch, who is from a working class north Belfast background and whose father Jimmy was a docker, said: "If the Protestant working class wants to enhance its connection with the arts, the only people who can do that are the Protestant working class."

Playwright Owen McCafferty, added: "The only thing I can say it is the job of both the Lyric and the Mac to produce the best art they possibly can and then citizens are responsible themselves for going to investigate."

Anne McReynolds, chief executive at the MAC said: "Since opening in April 2012, we have involved 21,000 people in our community and outreach events, worked with over 1,350 artists, staged over 500 performances, presented 13 world-class and free art exhibitions and hosted 400 corporate events."

A Lyric Theatre statement disagreed with Mr Humphreys.

"Our recent Belfast season of plays dealt directly with Protestant culture in Northern Ireland," it said.

"The Pat & Plain project, funded by the Ulster-Scots Agency, won the Lyric a UK-wide award for Cultural Diversity.

"In fact, nearly 2,000 households in the Belfast North constituency have attended the Lyric since it reopened in 2011."

What's your solution? Six questions for William Humphrey on the arts

Q What was the last play you went to ?

A I can't remember the name of it. I would not tend to go to the theatre very often. I would be more into music.


Q When was the last time you were in a theatre ?

A The Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee went on a trip to Liverpool some time ago and we went to see the Liverpool Philharmonic.


Q What was the last book you read ?

A The Other Irish by Karen F McCarthy, which I enjoyed. I am a keen reader but I really don't get much time to read.


Q What was the last film you saw?

A Again I can't remember what it was.


Q What would you put on at the Lyric or Mac to attract working class, Protestant audiences?

A I suppose something like Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme (by Frank McGuinness), something which the Protestant community can really identify with.


Q What is your own suggestion for solving the problem – what would be your alternative to what the Mac and Lyric are doing?

A I know that a few years ago the Ulster Orchestra put on performances in the Shankill Leisure Centre and Andersons-town Leisure Centre. They have got to reach out to the community.

Three acting greats proud of their humble backgrounds

Kenneth Branagh

Born in Belfast in 1960, Sir Ken is the second of three children from a working-class Protestant family which moved to England when he was nine.

At the age of 15 he saw Derek Jacobi play Hamlet and decided he wanted to be an actor. Three years later, he went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, which led to a career of successes like Another Country, the Billy Plays, Fortunes of War and Holywood movies like Celebrity. He has also directed a number of films, including Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the recent comic hero action flick, Thor.

Derek Jacobi

Although an only child, his mother Daisy Gertrude was a secretary who worked in a drapery store and his father Alfred George ran a sweet shop and became a tobacconist. His great-grandfather on his father's side had emigrated to England from Germany during the 19th century.

Liam Neeson

Born in Ballymena in 1952, his mother Katherine – known as 'Kitty' – was a cook and his father Bernard worked as a caretaker at the Ballymena Boys All Saints Primary School. At first a boxer who became an amateur senior boxing champion, he also played football and had a range of jobs, including a fork lift truck driver, before in 1976 joining the Lyric Players' Theatre in Belfast where he performed for two years. He moved on to his first film experience in 1977 in Pilgrim's Progress, which led to a career filled with hits.

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