Coronavirus: Belfast's Lyric Theatre rules out 2020 reopening

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI arts correspondent

  • Published
Lyric Theatre
Image caption,
The Lyric Theatre is among the venues to have written to every Northern Ireland assembly member

The Lyric Theatre in Belfast will not reopen for plays or performances until 2021.

Management told staff it had made the decision as there was "no clarity" yet over any financial support for venues.

The theatre employs about 75 people as well as hundreds of freelance staff each year for its productions.

In July, Northern Ireland received £33m as part of a UK government package for theatres, arts and music venues, museums and heritage sites.

However, the Northern Ireland Executive has not yet decided how that money will be spent or when it will be released.

'Collapsed like dominoes'

Theatres and venues have also not been given a date when they can re-admit audiences, and even when they return they are likely to be limited to ensure social distancing.

In an email to staff, the Lyric's management said they had been able to furlough staff through the government's job retention scheme.

However, they said that could not make up for £2m in income the theatre makes through its box office and cafe bar each year.

"At every stage of this pandemic, we have been working towards reopening the theatre in a safe and Covid compliant way for our wonderful audiences and brilliant artists," the message to staff said.

"But each carefully thought-out plan has collapsed like dominoes in the howl of the ill-wind of this pandemic.

"Times are indeed tough for everyone, and this sort of staggered planning is no longer possible or fiscally prudent."

Decision taken 'reluctantly'

The message added: "The Lyric has reluctantly come to the conclusion that this year, for the first time in our history, we will not be presenting our hugely popular and unique Christmas offerings.

"Therefore, we will not produce any work on our stages until 2021.

"This has implications for our staff, both permanent and casual workers, our audiences and, as the single largest employer of arts workers in NI, for hundreds of freelance artists we would normally employ."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
A number of venues across NI have previously warned they face financial "devastation"

The Lyric's management said they had taken the decision "reluctantly".

"We had hoped that clarity around the level of financial support to venues and production companies would have come much sooner," they said.

"No such clarity or timetable currently exists. We hope that will be quickly resolved."

The Lyric's patron Liam Neeson recently appealed to the executive to provide financial support to venues and the arts.

A number of entertainment and arts venues across Northern Ireland have previously warned they face financial "devastation".

Sir Van Morrison, Snow Patrol and Ash are among almost 150 artists who have also called for "urgent financial support" for NI's music industry to survive the impact of measures taken to combat the pandemic.