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Amateur cast at Lyric offer double slice of Shakespeare with a twist
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A group of amateur actors who seized a unique opportunity to gain professional training from the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) are putting their new skills to the test at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast.

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) Open Stages Project reaches its grand finale at the Lyric at the end of August with a performance of Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth by acclaimed playwright Tom Stoppard.

The RSC Open Stages Project, which aims to develop amateur theatre and reforge the bond it has with professional theatre, has engaged with 264 amateur companies and ten regional theatres over the past year.

The amateur cast are currently rehearsing with the Lyric’s professional and creative team to stage the Shakespeare-inspired play which its director, P.J. O’Reilly described as “challenging even for the professionals”.

“As the title suggests the play is in two parts which have to be performed together,” he explained.

“Stoppard intended to subvert Shakespeare – it is a clever play about the psychology of words and how they can have different meanings to different people.”

Working with an amateur cast is a different challenge for O’Reilly who has just finished directing Titanic Boys at the Grand Opera House.

“I think it is great to be working with a group of very enthusiastic amateurs in a professional theatre surrounded by a skilled professional staff,” he said. “As well as rehearsing the play, we have been doing workshops in movement, voice and technique so they are getting to expand their skills further.”

One of the cast, Adrian Cooke (29) from Belfast works in a clothes shop but would love to work professionally as an actor.

“The opportunity to take part in the RSC Open Stages was what inspired us to set up our amateur theatre company, Greenwood Players,” he said. “I have loved taking part in the skills exchange and learning from the professionals. Rehearsing here at the Lyric five days a week is really how I would like to earn my living.

Earlier in the summer the Lyric worked with a group of young people, aged 17 to 22, from The Rainbow Factory to put on a Belfast version of Julius Caesar in Stratford-upon-Avon – the home of Shakespeare.

The Rainbow Factory was chosen to go to Stratford out of six amateur theatre companies from Ireland, north and south, who performed Shakespeare-themed productions in the Lyric Theatre in April.

Philip Crawford, Lyric Creative Learning Co-ordinator said: “The Lyric Theatre is delighted to be able to facilitate this unique and exciting opportunity for these actors. The RSC Open Stages project has certainly achieved what it set out to do – reforging the link between amateur and professional theatre and fulfilling aspirations for many budding actors.”

Enrolment is now open for the autumn term of the Lyric Theatre School which offers a fantastic range of drama programmes for children and adults.

The Lyric Theatre School requires a weekly commitment across the term which runs from September to December. See the Lyric website for more information www.lyrictheatre.co.uk/theatre-training.

There are three performances of Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth in the Naughton Studio of the Lyric Theatre: Friday 31 August at 8pm; Saturday 1 September at 3pm and 8pm.

For bookings call the Lyric Box Office on 028 9038 1081 or book online at www.lyrictheatre.co.uk