Brendan Behan goes from Belfast to Broadway

Lyric Theatre’s acclaimed comedy heads for New York, but don’t worry…it will be back


After a successful first run at the Lyric Theatre in 2011 the comedy-drama Brendan at the Chelsea is back. The play, written by Brendan Behan’s niece Janet Behan and starring Adrian Dunbar, will be heading to Theatre Row, off-Broadway, for a month in September, before returning to take pride of place in the Lyric’s new season.

‘I’ve always felt that New York was the play’s natural home,’ Dunbar, who also directs the play, says. ‘It’s also a great opportunity for the Lyric Theatre to show their appreciation to all their American benefactors. They’re all coming to see the show, and we’re organising some special events to say “thanks” for their support.’

Dunbar is thrilled to be stepping back into Behan’s skin, but it isn’t necessarily a surprise. Plans to revisit the legendarily bohemian Chelsea Hotel began back during the play’s first run at the Lyric, after it proved to be a huge success.


‘We were talking about bringing it back,’ Dunbar recalls. ‘Then some of us came up with the suggestion that it would be a good idea if the Lyric Theatre re-established itself as a touring theatre.’

From his lips to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s ears (along with the British Council, Culture Ireland, NI Bureau, NI Connections, and Tourism Ireland).

It will be Dunbar’s first professional acting gig in New York. Although, he confides, he has taken a bite out of the Big Apple once before.

‘In 1979 I was in the Bronx with Frank Chisholm from Omagh,’ he says. ‘He was an Elvis impersonator and I was in his band. We played a lot of Irish country music. That’s my only ‘gigging’ experience in New York.’

Still, he’s hopeful that American audiences with take the play to heart and is really excited to be giving them the opportunity to see it. Brendan at the Chelsea is very much a labour of love for the actor. He first saw it in 2005 in a Rehearsed Reading at the National Theatre. It impressed him so much that when he learned the National Theatre weren’t going to do anything further with it, he went directly to playwright Janet Behan and asked if they could work on the play together.

It took a few years – and a production at the Riverside Theatre put on entirely with Janet and Dunbar’s own money – but eventually Dunbar had the opportunity to pitch the play to the Lyric Theatre’s Artistic Director Richard Croxford.

‘He agreed to put it on,’ Dunbar recalls. ‘It proved to be a huge success.’

After its stint in New York Brendan at the Chelsea will be back at the Lyric Theatre for a week on the Danske Bank Stage, then will be heading down to Dublin and Derry~Londonderry, just catching the tail end of the City of Culture year.

It’s a busy tour, but with the 2011 cast back in harness (including NI actor Richard Orr) Dunbar seems confident that everything is going to fall into place. It’s an even busier year for him. In addition to Brendan at the Chelsea Dunbar is taking part in the Beckett Festival, doing a reading at a one-day exhibition of a Sean Scully exhibition on the artist’s thoughts on Beckett, and is also putting the final touches on the second series of BBC 2 drama Line of Duty.

‘It was one of the most successful BBC 2 dramas,’ Dunbar says of the police proceedural. ‘And we’re hoping to build on that even more in the next series. The more success there is, the more successful everything is. It creates a centre of excellence, and people will start to see how beneficial the arts are to everyone.’

For now, though, he’s keeping his fingers crosssed for New York.

 Brendan at the Chelsea will be at The Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row in New York September/October and back at the Lyric Theatre from October 20 to November 10