Lyric Theatre's Northern Soul Season

New Owen McCafferty play The Death of a Comedian features in first programme under executive producer Jimmy Fay

You can say this about Jimmy Fay: he's not a man to go back on his word. When he was appointed as executive producer of Belfast's Lyric Theatre in late January 2014, he promised us 'vibrant theatre with brilliant theatre-makers and artists'.

His latest season, announced five months later, certainly lives up to that statement. What the Lyric are calling their 'Northern Soul' season includes Stewart Parker's modern classic Pentecost, new writing from Marie Jones and a world premiere of a new play by Owen McCafferty in association with the Abbey Theatre, Dublin and the Soho Theatre, London.

On the general theme of the new programme, Fay (below left) explains that 'each of the plays share something Northern in their locations, and each of them deal in some powerful way with the soul'.

 

Fay kicks his new season off in August with the intense teen drama, Punk Rock, by prolific writer, Simon Stephens. Directed by Dublin-based Selina Cartmell, the play tells the story of various angsty adolescents as they flirt, bully and pontificate their way through their A-level exams.

Drawn from the same stable as The History Boys and Spring Awakening, Punk Rock will, Fay hopes, attract a younger teenage audience that the Lyric have not previously catered for. The play runs from August 10 to September 6 on the Danske Bank Stage.

Next up, under Fay’s skillful directorial eye is Stewart Parker’s magnificently moving Pentecost. Set in a marooned Belfast house, Parker's masterpiece tells the story of the intertwined lives of a group of people thrown together during the momentous Ulster Workers’s Strike. As the characters argue about the past – both personal and political – they attempt to envisage a future beyond bombs and reprisals.

As 2014 marks the 40th anniversary of the Ulster Workers’ Strike, there couldn’t be a more fitting context and time for Belfast to be treated to this momentous play. Pentecost runs on the Danske Bank Stage from September 20 to October 18.

Marie Jones returns to the Lyric full of Christmas cheer for Mistletoe & Crime, with partner in crime Dan Gordon in the director's chair. The play focuses on two WPCs trying to keep order amongst the mayhem that is a Belfast Christmas, and runs from November 22 until January 11.

And whilst Jones and Gordon look after the adult humour, talented choreographer and director Deborah Maguire will conjure up the magic of Christmas for children with a new musical adaptation of the enchanted tale of Sleeping Beauty.

Looking ahead to spring 2015, the Lyric will host the world premiere of Owen McCafferty’s new play, The Death of A Comedian, a co-production with the Abbey Theatre and the Soho Theatre. McCafferty’s most recent play, Quietly, enjoyed huge international success, winning three major awards at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and is currently playing at the Soho Theatre to great critical acclaim.

The Death of A Comedian is set across four separate stand-up gigs and follows the choices of comedian Steve Johnston who could gain everything he wants, but may lose everything he has. Directed by Steve Marmion, The Death of A Comedian runs from the February 8 to March 8, also on the Danske Bank Stage.

Speaking at the launch of the programme, the Lyric’s chairman, Mark Carruthers, refreshingly admitted that the Lyric Theatre board may have 'taken their eye off the ball slightly when launching the new theatre' over two years ago, but have had the chance to 'recalibrate' and hope that the Lyric under Fay’s guidance will return to the 'apex of Irish culture'.

Fay’s exciting new programme shows a willingness to lead and the ability to take risks, both of which the Lyric have arguably been void of since the inauguration of its multi-million pound new building on Ridgeway Street.

At a time when the arts are facing some of their greatest challenges, it is comforting to know that theatre makers like Fay continue to energetically pursue thrilling ways to tell stories and connect with their audiences. It is bold decisions such as these that shape a theatre's identity and make for a strong, varied theatre culture in Northern Ireland in the future.

Visit the Lyric Theatre website for more information.