The history of Riverside Theatre
The Riverside Theatre was commissioned by the New University of Ulster (now the Ulster University) as a major project during the 1970s, which was at the height of The Troubles, a turbulent period in Northern Ireland’s history.
The Riverside Theatre was commissioned by the New University of Ulster (now Ulster University) as a major project during the 1970s, which was at the height of The Troubles, a turbulent period in Northern Ireland’s history. At that time, there were no other theatres open and operating outside of Belfast city centre though, across the water in England and Scotland, it was a particularly thriving time for the development of new theatres and arts centres.
It was considered then that, both as a developmental feature for the New University of Ulster in its course provision in English and Drama degrees and research, and, as a useful facility for the citizens of the town of Coleraine, the University campus was an ideal spot for the new theatre with its landscaped, picturesque grounds and ample parking space.
Under the supervision of the then Vice-Chancellor, Dr Alan Burges and NUU Registrar WT Ewing, an approach was made to one of Europe’s leading designers, Peter Moro, who was contracted to design a theatre for the University and for the citizens of Coleraine. Funding came from public donations, the University itself, the Gulbenkian Foundation and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the building was completed in 1977. The Theatre cost £385,000 to build and equip.
Within a few months of opening, in the same year, the Theatre won the prestigious Architect’s Award for one of the UK’s best public design features of 1977. In the same year, the Theatre was officially declared open, in person, by HM The Queen as part of her official visit to the New University of Ulster, at Coleraine.
Riverside remains one of the creational gems of that award-winning architect, the late Peter Moro. Moro’s other designs include the Royal Festival Hall, the Nottingham Playhouse, the Theatre Royal at Plymouth and the University Theatre at Hull.
Who has performed here?
Many of today’s hottest stars of Irish, British and International stage, screen and television began their careers in the Riverside from the Seventies onwards.
Dr James Nesbitt - Chancellor of Ulster University
The best known of these is Coleraine actor James Nesbitt, an early member of the Riverside Youth Theatre, who was “discovered” in 1978 while playing the part of The Artful Dodger in Riverside’s Christmas Show of that year, Lionel Bart’s Oliver! (The title role was played by BBC TV's Mark Carruthers, James's contemporary - in a magical production directed by Riverside's Administrator of that time, Tony Newby Lee).
Dr James Nesbitt (Jimmy, as he's better known) was installed as Chancellor of the Ulster University in a ceremony, on Riverside's main stage, in June 2010 - and in the same ceremony Ballycastle export and international actor Conleth Hill was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters. Conleth performed the lead role in Riverside's production of "The Picture of Dorian Gray" during the 80s.
James has paid an enormous compliment to us by having named his successful racehorse "Riverside Theatre"!
Distinguished Scots actor Alan Cumming appeared in Riverside during the 80s, in the Royal National Theatre's touring production of "Accidental Death of an Anarchist". He currently plays Eli Gold on the CBS television show "The Good Wife".
He appeared as a guest star in the latter third of the first season, becoming a series regular in the show's 2010–2011 season. He has been nominated for two Primetime Emmy Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, and Satellite Award for his performance.
The renowned, international movie actor and stand-up comedian, Omid read Theatre Studies at the Ulster University in the late 80s and cut his teeth on Riverside's main stage in productions directed by Lynda Henderson and Paul Hadfield, prior to graduating.
Omid was featured recently on BBC TV's "The One Show", in which he was reunited with Lynda, for the first time since he graduated from the University.
Omid was, during September 2014, reading daily extracts of his recently published autobiography, on Radio 4 as Book Of The Week.
"Dad's Army" star and No. 1 single-artiste ("Grandad") Clive visited Riverside regularly during the 80s, with his comedy-specials.
Jonny Lee Miller
Star of the movie "Trainspotting" alongside Ewan McGregor - Jonny Lee Miller - trod Riverside's boards during the 80s in a production brought to us from TAG Theatre of Glasgow.
Veteran actor and Presenter of Radio 4's longest-running game-show "Just a Minute", Nicholas performed his excellent one-man show on the life and times of eccentric poet Edward Lear during the 90s.
Bill, who has played the role of Ken Barlow in "Coronation Street", the globe's longest running TV soap, appeared during the late 70s in a Riverside Chat Show hosted by Gordon Burns.
International actress and wife of Timothy West, Pru Scales is most affectionately remembered both as Sybil Fawlty, wife of the horrific Torquay hotel owner Basil, in the classic TV sitcom of the 70s, Fawlty Towers and in the title role of Elizabeth Mapp in ITV's dramatized series "Mapp and Lucia", one of television drama's highlights of the mid-80s.
Pru performed in Riverside during the 80s with her own production, "An Evening with Queen Victoria".
Prunella and Timothy currently star in Channel 4's series of Great Canal Journeys.
Coleraine Theatre/ TV & Film Practitioners
Mark Carruthers, Northern Ireland’s most respected political journalist, author of several books, presenter of the weekly "The View", "Sunday Politics NI" and "Stormont Today" on BBC TV and popular radio anchorman, honed his performance skills acting on the Riverside stage.
As well as his triumph described above as Oliver, in Lionel Bart's musical of the same name, Mark proved to be an astonishingly versatile young actor and subsequently - while studying for his O-levels - played the enormously challenging role of Myles, one of the two dysfunctional children in the psychological thriller, based on Henry James' novel, "The Turn of the Screw".
This professional production, directed by Tony Newby Lee for Interplay Theatre Company, NI's only Theatre-in-Education company in the 70s, was a huge success with audiences and critically well-reviewed. Mark subsequently played the male lead in Jeremy Lewis's production of Joe Orton's outrageous black-comedy "Loot", during the mid-80s.
Zoe Seaton, Artistic Director of the Big Telly Theatre Company and one of Ireland's most respected directors and theatre practitioners, began as a child actor in Riverside and a founder member of its first Youth Theatre, Upstage Downstage. Big Telly has just celebrated its 25th birthday and is Northern Ireland's oldest operating, professional theatre company.
Scriptwriter for RTE, playwright, director and film-maker Robert Taylor, acted in several Riverside productions while a pupil at Coleraine Inst. Robert gained his Equity card, the gateway into the professional actors' Union, by taking the leading role in Riverside's production of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" in the early 80s, while Robert was studying for his A-Levels. He went on to perform in David Edgar's intriguing two-hander, "Ballboys", a very unusual Wimbledon thriller, alongside his contemporary James Nesbitt - in a show directed by Colin Carnegie, of Centre Stage Productions, Belfast.
Ronan Lundy, BBC Radio's regional corespondent and presenter, was one of Fagin's gang of pickpockets in 1978's "Oliver". As a member of Upstage Downstage, Riverside's first Youth Theatre - founded by Riverside's Wardrobe Mistress Jane Seaton - Ronan went on to play leading roles in USDS's various productions.
Critically-acclaimed visual artist and book-illustrator Stephen Brown performed as a child actor in several Riverside productions during the 70s.
Briana Corrigan, formerly a singer and recording artiste with rock band The Beautiful South, began as a Riverside child actor.
OTHER INTERNATIONALLY-KNOWN ARTISTES
But the list is even more extensive. A young Liam Neeson performed here during the early Eighties.
Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and Emma Thompson were all unknown but regular visitors then too, having just graduated from the Cambridge Footlights.
Iconic British film star Richard Todd, was one of the many stars to perform in Riverside during its first year of operation, in a thriller which led to a full week of packed houses.
And Northern Ireland's own - the late and sadly missed - James Ellis - stage, screen and television star - performed the lead in "Dial M For Murder", the classic, Hitchcockian thriller, which was staged in Riverside's opening year. James is affectionately remembered from his leads in TV dramas such as Graham Reid's "Billy" plays and BBC's "Z Cars".
Countless stars of major television soaps, such as Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Hollyoaks, Eastenders and Brookside have all appeared here through the years and we still keep in contact with many of them today. Irish crooners Brendan O'Dowda and Val Doonican performed here several times during ther 80s.
80s Rock Band The Flying Pickets appeared in Riverside during the 80s, just a week before their recording of "Only You" reached No 1 in the Top Twenty.
Classic offbeat, cult comedian, the late and much lamented, Ivor Cutler performed his inimitable "Life in a Scotch Sitting Room" on our main stage just prior to it being released as an album on the Virgin label. (Volumes 1 and 2 of this unique recording are still available and well worth a listen!)
Legendary Belfast export Van Morrison recorded a concert/chat-show appearance on our main stage, commissioned by UTV during the 90s, which remains as one of the highlights of Riverside's music promotions. Clips of this amazing event are still available to see on YouTube