Kenneth Branagh Returns To Lyric Stage

The Belfast-born actor to star alongside comedian Rob Brydon in a highlight of the Lyric's forthcoming season

After an £18m renovation, the Lyric Theatre in Belfast has announced highlights of its 2011-12 season, with Lyric alumni Kenneth Brannagh set to return to the stage on which he made his name.

Brannagh will appear alongside comedian and actor Rob Brydon in the new comedy, The Painkiller, produced by Brannagh and Sean Foley, the Olivier Award-winning team behind the West End smash hit The Play What I Wrote.

The Painkiller is a remarkable play,' said Brannagh. 'Sean Foley, the director, is a fantastic talent, familiar to Belfast audiences. When he showed me his modern adaptation of Francis Veber's farce, I knew I wanted to be involved.

'It's also a particular thrill to partner on stage with the brilliant Rob Brydon. I was lucky enough to begin my career with Graham Reid's Billy, in my home town of Belfast exactly 30 years ago. I feel equally lucky to be back at the Lyric.’

Co-star Rob Brydon added: ‘It's exciting to be part of the re-opening of the Lyric. It looks like it's going to be a great venue and I can't wait to get to Belfast and get started.’

Tickets for the new Lyric season go on sale at 10am on Monday, January 24. The theatre will open on May 1 with a gala performance of The Crucible by Arthur Miller on the Northern Bank Stage.

Other highlights include a 30th anniversary performance of Martin Lynch’s Dockers - about life in and around Belfast's world famous shipbuilding yards - and family musicals The Jungle Book and The Little Prince, the latter having been adapted by Julian Lloyd Webber.

Opening the new Naughton Studio will be the European premiere of Brendan at the Chelsea, a bio drama of Brendan Behan written by his niece Janet and brought to the stage by Adrian Dunbar, who will direct and lead the cast as the hell-raising Irish author.

Rosemary Kelly, Chairman of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland said at the launch of the new Lyric seaons: ‘As the longest-running principal sponsor of the Lyric, the Arts Council is pleased to continue its support with an investment of £2.4million in the new state-of-the-art theatre.

‘Over the past 40 years in its previous home, the Lyric provided an outstanding cultural programme, generating some of the most stimulating and groundbreaking theatre ever seen in Ireland. It looks like that trend is set to continue in 2011.’

The Lyric Theatre has given 100 days advance notice to theatre-goers so they can plan their attendance at the first season in the Lyric Theatre's spectacular new building.

‘There is no better occasion to fully appreciate the splendour and scale, ambience and ambition of the building than during our opening festival fortnight,’ said artistic director Richard Croxford, ‘when the Lyric will be bursting at the seams with activity in every corner of the building.

'During the festival visitors can listen to inspirational speakers from the world of theatre, enjoy readings of new and classic plays, and take part in an amazing array of workshops for audiences young and old, or simply pop in for coffee and a snack while you digest the daily papers.

‘The Lyric will be a new cultural hub for Northern Ireland. In years to come, you will want to look back and say you were there at the very start!’

Tickets can be booked from Monday, January 24 at 10am online at www.lyrictheatre.co.uk, by phoning (028) 9038 1081 or in person at the Lyric’s temporary offices at Crannog House, 44 Stranmillis Embankment.