The Grand Canal Theatre breathes new life into the Docklands

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The development of Dublin’s Docklands has in general been a big success in rejuvenating this once thriving hub of Dublin (Bottle bank site excluded). The docks had fallen into decay for decades since Dublin Port moved further out, and throughout much of the eighties and nineties it became a playground for filmmakers among “other” not such glamours activities. I worked on many such film projects in that area and I had a workshop just down from the location of the new Grand Canal Theatre for a few years. I have a lot of memories of that time and the area. All the sets for Michael Collins were built in warehousing close to where the impressive new O2 offices are now sited.

The entire area has been transformed with new apartments and office blocks with a very European feel along both sides of the quaysides. There have been 2 new bridges providing much needed transport and social links between both North & South Quays. I really admire the new Samuel Beckett Bridge which adds focus to the Liffey. The Point depot has been transformed into a modern concert venue equal to one in any city. In September 2010 the new 2,000 seat Conference Centre is scheduled to open providing an exceptional venue for international conferences and corporate events. Recently the Luas has been extended to the Point giving the entire area a superb public transport link with the rest of the city.

A few weeks ago another stunning piece of architecture was unveiled in the Docklands, The Grand Canal Theatre. It opened its doors on March 18th for the first time with a production of Swan Lake performed by the Russian State Ballet with stars from the Bolshoi. The 2,100-seat theatre was designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, along with theatre architects RHWL and was developed by Joe Reilly of Chartered Land. This building can cater for theatre, opera, ballet, classical and pop concerts and we now have a venue that can accommodate a West End or Broadway production.

The theatre is located at the heart of the Grand Canal Harbour development and creates a focal point for Grand Canal Square. The new waterfront public square was designed by a Boston landscape architect Martha Schwartz and symbolises a ‘red carpet’ sweeping up from the canal basin to the theatre entrance. The exterior of the building has a maritime feel resembling the prow of a ship with angular steel and glass, which looks stunning by either by day or night.

I was lucky enough to have received a tour of the entire complex  and its operations just before it opened. On Easter Saturday I attended a performance of Irish ballad group The High Kings at the new theatre, my first experience of how it functions as a theatre. Although there are still some car park related works ongoing to the side of the theatre, it does not distract from a very impressive building and it’s setting. As you enter the theatre lobby through the massive angular steel-glazed columns your eyes are drawn up to the glazed fronted platforms 3 levels above you which provide an excellent view back over the piazza and the canal basin. Inside the auditorium there is an unbroken view of the stage no matter where you are seated with reasonable leg room. Above the grand circle there is a rooftop terrace, which offers spectacular views out over the Grand Canal harbour. I really enjoyed my first visit, The High Kings provided very entertaining foot-tapping rousing ballads to an enthusiastic audience there, and hope I will be back to many other events in the coming years.

The Grand Canal Theatre will ensure that this area continues to thrive as a cultural hub and will breathe new life and social integration into this area for the next 100 years. The docklands have provided Dublin with a whole new outlook and I hope it continues to develop it’s own individual character for all who live and work there or for people like me, to enjoy the show or view the architecture.

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