Thursday 23 November 2017 07:22:06 AM

Simon Callow Headlines Lyric Spring/Summer Season
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Star of stage and screen Simon Callow headlines Lyric Theatre’s Spring/Summer season

Good heavens! World-renowned actor Simon Callow headlines a packed programme of plays, events and concerts at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast with his own one-man show playing Jesus.

Simon Callow – famous for his Royal Shakespeare performances and the hit film Four Weddings and a Funeral – will star in the premiere of The Man Jesus by Matthew Hurt at the Lyric this Easter. The one-man play examines Jesus, the human, in a thought-provoking drama which comes to the Danske Bank Stage in Holy Week and runs until 20 April.

Simon Callow said: “I can barely express my excitement at appearing on the stage of the most beautiful new theatre in Europe, at returning to the city where I studied and where I did my first acting, and at being involved in the world premiere of Matthew Hurt’s deeply moving new play about Jesus.”

At the end of this much anticipated premiere, the distinguished actor will deliver the annual Lyric Lecture on 21 April to celebrate the theatre’s second birthday.

Callow is due in Belfast on Thursday to help launch the Lyric’s new programme which is dominated by a special season of plays, films and talks about Belfast to mark the city’s 400th birthday this year.

Tales of the City consists of four plays which capture the spirit of Belfast with characters and stories firmly rooted in the city but with universal themes. There could be no better quartet of writers to document the city’s evolution than St. John Ervine, Graham Reid, Marie Jones and David Ireland, each with a unique voice and perspective on Belfast past and present.

Richard Croxford, the Lyric’s Artistic Director said: “Love, loss and identity permeate our Tales of the City season but so too does that indefatigable Belfast humour and spirit that continues to define its citizens in the eyes of the world. For over 60 years, the Lyric has been Northern Ireland’s only full-time producing theatre, employing local writers, directors, actors and creative teams to deliver outstanding drama that is relevant to local audiences and revealing to visitors to the city.

“The Lyric Theatre has a range of recession-busting discounts and concessions to suit everyone’s pocket. These include discounted tickets for previews and early run matinees; students and unwaged £10 tickets for off-peak performances; £10 Standby Sunday tickets; and our very successful £5 Community Group Ticket Scheme.”

Belfast Lord Mayor Gavin Robinson welcomed the new season celebrating the city: “Congratulations to the Lyric Theatre for this exciting new season line-up offering a variety of entertainment throughout this Spring and Summer. I am delighted that Tales of the City will complement Belfast City Council’s celebrations of Belfast’s 400th birthday.”

The first play which previews from this weekend is Mixed Marriage by St. John Ervine which tells the story of a respectable Protestant father who acts to calm the sectarian tension being stirred up by politicians for their own ends. Set on the eve of the Ulster Covenant, John Rainey successfully unites Catholic and Protestant against the machinations of the factory owners, the nationalists and the Orangemen. But at home, it is a different matter altogether when he discovers that his son wants to marry a Catholic.

The playwright, St. John Ervine was a distant cousin of the late PUP leader David Ervine and recent events have given this masterpiece about Belfast and sectarianism alarming topicality. Mixed Marriage runs on the Danske Bank Stage from 27 January to 23 February.

Love, Billy

No season of Belfast plays could be complete without one of the city’s most famous families on stage or screen. The Lyric has commissioned Love, Billy, the fifth instalment in the now legendary series of Billy plays. First televised by the BBC in the 1980’s, as part of the infamous Play for Today series, the Billy plays by Graham Reid made a huge impact not only across the island of Ireland but also the whole of the United Kingdom.

Love, Billy, which has its world premiere at the Lyric this May, sees Billy Martin returning to Belfast after 25 years, having left mysteriously without telling anyone. He comes back to a city that he hardly recognises and family grudges to resolve.

There is a chance to see the Billy plays on screen again as part of a season of free films about Belfast in the Naughton Studio in association with BBC Northern Ireland and Belfast Film Festival. This series of dramas and documentaries begins in February and runs for a week in April.

Another premiere in the season’s programme is the first play written for the Lyric by former Playwright-in-Residence David Ireland, one of Northern Ireland’s hottest young writing talents. Ireland has teamed up with star of stage and screen, Conleth Hill (Game of Thrones) who directs the romantic comedy, Can’t Forget About You.

Following a painful break-up, 25-year-old east Belfast man, Stevie meets and falls in love with a woman twice his age. Their fledgling relationship is challenged by the expectations of Stevie’s conservative Christian mother and his ultra-unionist, Ulster-Scots-speaking sister who work hard to break the pair up. While primarily a very funny comedy, Can’t Forget About You touches on deeper themes such as grief, loss, sexual mores, cultural identity, sectarianism and the question of how Northern Ireland moves on from the politics of the past and faces the future.

Marie Jones’ classic

The Tales of the City season concludes with more humour in the Marie Jones’ classic comedy, Weddins, Weeins and Wakeswhich returns to the Lyric in June and July and is directed by Lyric stalwart, Ian McElhinney. Few writers better capture the ordinary lives and humour of Belfast locals than Marie Jones who has had a string of hit plays that have catapulted the city to audiences worldwide.

At the heart of this engaging story are neighbourhood biddies Mona and Molly who gossip into life the daily trials and tribulations of the Watson family: rearing their families, marrying them off and then burying them. Given recent headlines, Weddins, Weeins and Wakes offers some light relief and paints a more positive picture of a tight-knit community living in east Belfast.

City Conversations

No Belfast season could be complete without our famous banter and to this end, the Lyric is hosting a series of City Conversationswith well-known personalities about the impact Belfast has had on their life and work. The series begins on 3 March when esteemed Northern Ireland poet, Michael Longley will discuss his work with BBC Arts presenter, Marie-Louise Muir.

Architect John Tuomey, whose design for the Lyric Theatre was short-listed for the prestigious Stirling Prize, will be speaking about his award-winning practice on 21 April.

Contemporary artist, Colin Davidson – the man behind the eye-catching portraits in the Lyric’s foyer – and playwright Marie Jones will be ‘in conversation’ on 12 May and 6 July respectivelyDark comedy by Conor McPherson

For those who fancy a break from the Belfast theme, the Lyric teams up with Perth Theatre and director Rachel O’Riordan to stage The Seafarer by acclaimed writer Conor McPherson, best known for his hugely popular play, The Weir. This darkly funny play tells the tale of fisherman-turned-chauffeur James ‘Sharky’ Harkin who returns to his family home in Dublin where he battles the demon drink. But when Sharky joins a Christmas Eve poker game with a mysterious stranger, he finds the stakes higher than he first realised. The Seafarer runs from 28 February to 23 March on the Danske Bank Stage.

Creative Learning

There are plenty of opportunities for young and not-so-young to get involved with the Lyric. From voice coaching and stage combat, to sound design and stage management, school-children as well as professional actors can benefit from a range of skills training.

Lyric is delighted to be hosting Connections, in which eight Youth Theatre groups from Ireland, England and Scotland will present plays especially commissioned by the National Theatre in London. A highlight of the season will be the Lyric Drama Studio’s production of Our Country’s Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker. This classic play about a group of convicts in 18thcentury Australia attempting to put on a comedy runs in the Naughton Studio from 28 to 30 March.

Roisín McDonough, Arts Council of Northern Ireland Chief Executive, said: “As principal funder of the state-of-the-art Lyric Theatre, the Arts Council is delighted that Northern Ireland’s only full time producing theatre enjoyed such an eventful and memorable year in 2012.  The Lyric is primed to build on its success in 2013 with the £2.4million invested by the Arts Council in the new theatre continuing to protect, strengthen and develop the arts infrastructure here while stimulating the economy through cultural tourism.”

Head of Danske Bank UK and Ireland Gerry Mallon welcomed the new season: “This is our first full season of partnership with the Lyric as Danske Bank. We remain a local bank, always keen to celebrate local talent, and there is much to look forward to in the Tales of the City season, from the return of much loved Belfast characters to exciting new writing talent. We look forward to another fantastic season on the Danske Bank Stage.”

For more information on the Lyric’s season or to book, go to www.lyrictheatre.co.uk or contact the Box Office on (028) 9038 1081.