Only 90 minutes after Stormont regulations formally changed to permit theatres to reopen, the lights went down at the Lyric Theatre for the opening night of ‘Dracula’.
It was the first audience the famous venue had hosted for 16 months.
Stormont rules meant the 390-capacity theatre was only a third full and all audience members had to comply with a range of Covid mitigation measures, including the wearing of face masks.
However, the restrictions did not dampen spirts and the call for people to take their seats was greeted with a loud cheer in the theatre bar and foyer ahead of the performance.
The play’s director Philip Crawford said everyone was so grateful so see an audience back in the Lyric.
“It’s just great to see this building coming alive again, it’s just strange that it’s 16 months since we’ve had audiences arriving,” he said.
“It’s very exciting. We just hope we remember how to do it.”
Mr Crawford, who is head of creative learning at the Lyric, said Monday had been a nerve-wracking day as he waited for the green light to reopen from the Stormont Executive.
The play had already been scheduled and tickets sold in the hope that regulations would have changed come opening night.
“I don’t think in our wildest dreams we thought that we would have permission to open 90 minutes before the show opened,” he said.
Wife and husband Carmel and Michael McGuigan from Belfast were among the 130-strong audience.
The couple have been enjoying plays at the Lyric for decades.
Mrs McGuigan said 16 months without the theatre had been “absolutely terrible”.
“We’ve really missed it,” she said.
“Since 1976 we’ve been coming to the Lyric and there would have been very few plays we would have missed.
“We’re delighted to be back.”
Bill Bannon from the north of the city said nothing compared to being in a live audience.
“To be honest … it seems more than 16 months, it seems like three years ago,” he said.
“It’s great to be back, absolutely brilliant. Believe me, it was sadly missed.”