'They called me a week after my interview, at nine o'clock in the evening. It was a real shock,' recalls David Ireland on hearing that he had been appointed Playwright-in-Residence at the new Lyric Theatre. 'I had trouble sleeping and eating for a few days.'
With new writing talent central to the Lyric's artistic policy, Ireland will take up the year long Playwright-in-Residence post at the theatre when it re-opens in May 2011 charged with writing a play, facilitating workshops and unearthing new writing talent.
Ireland will join a small band of associate artists who have worked with the Lyric in the past, which includes playwrights Martin Lynch and Christina Reid.
'Like many people in Belfast, I've been going to the Lyric since I was a teenager and many of the plays I saw there over the years inspired me to work in the theatre,' said Ireland. 'So it's wonderful to be given this unique opportunity of being Playwright-in-Residence, particularly at this very exciting time in the Lyric's history.'
Ireland trained as an actor at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and has worked for many theatre companies across the UK including the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Exhange Theatre in Manchester, the Citizens’ Theatre in Glasgow and the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh.
He has collaborated with Northern Irish theatre companies including Ransom and Tinderbox on his plays Arguments For Terrorism and Everything Between Us, the latter having just been nominated for the Stewart Parker Award. As well as being an associate member of Dundee Rep Ensemble, Ireland is currently under commission to Oran Mor in Glasgow and Tinderbox.
'I was part of the Ulster Youth Theatre, which staged a production of Brave New World in the Lyric in 1993,' Ireland remembers. 'That was my first experience as an extra. Then I saw Arthur Miller's All My Sons at the Lyric, which had a profound impact on me, as did Graham Reid's Hidden Curriculum. It was set in Belfast and dealt with issues like sectarianism in language that I could relate to.'
As part of the Lyric's forthcoming programme, Belfast-born actor, writer and director Kenneth Brannagh will return to Belfast to grace the Lyric stage for the first time alongside comedian and actor Rob Brydon in the new comedy, The Painkiller. Ireland looks forward to meeting the acclaimed thespian, without whom Ireland's career may never have taken off as it has.
'I wrote to Kenneth Branagh when I was in the UYT to ask for financial assistance to attend drama school. It's something that aspiring actors do in theatre. He was a patron of the UYT, so that helped. He sent me a cheque, which enabled me to move forward. I can't wait to meet him,' Ireland chuckles. 'But I hope he doesn't want it back!'
The Playwright-in-Residence’s post will be one of several associate artists with whom the Lyric will work in order to nurture a new wave of plays and playwrights. In addition to the new adaptations already programmed in the theatre’s opening season, The Jungle Book and The Little Prince, the Lyric has five new commissions already in development with local writers.
The Lyric’s Artistic Director Richard Croxford commented: 'We are truly delighted that local writer David Ireland will be our first Playwright-in-Residence in the new building. David has a huge amount of talent. He writes with great humour, integrity and credibility.
'His work is a voice that will resonate strongly with local audiences whilst entertaining them enormously. We look forward to working with him and to seeing him lead the way for new writing in our new theatre.'
The Lyric Theatre will re-open on May 1. Tickets to see a rehearsed reading of Ireland’s play What The Animals Say on May 3 during the theatre’s Opening Festival Fortnight are now on sale.