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Theatre of dreams

When the famous flying car from the musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang arrives at the Grand Canal Theatre this summer, the developers of this stunning auditorium will congratulate themselves on a job well done.

Regarded as the most difficult theatrical performance to stage, the musical is the acid test for any modern theatre building.

And it will surely find itself right at home in the world-class surrounds of the iconic new theatre building at Grand Canal Square.

With just two months to go before the grand opening on March 18, the Herald enjoyed a sneak preview of what will undoubtedly become a destination theatre for Irish and foreign visitors alike.


Believe us when we say that this red and glass jewel certainly has the wow factor. And despite acts such as the Russian State Ballet and the West End's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang already being lined up, most punters will spend their first visit taking in the style and sophistication of Dublin's newest cultural landmark.

Dubliners are already familiar with the Martha Schwartz-designed landscape art outside, and the red LED sticks which will provide a red carpet for everyone entering the venue.

Now, after three years of work, developers Chartered Land are applying the finishing touches.

The theatrical glamour starts at the entrance to the Daniel Liebskind structure, with the glass facade designed to resemble a raised theatre curtain.

In what is set to be a spectacular feature of the new Grand Canal Theatre, a unique lighting design will see a warm glow emanating from the building in the run-up to performance time each night, before cool colours signal the end of the show.

Inside, the plush red auditorium is every bit as jaw-dropping as one might expect, rivalling even the finest London and New York theatres.

Everything from the most ambitious Broadway musical productions and opera spectacles to simple solo performances will find a perfect home here.

It is three years since work started on the theatre, and it has been a labour of love for project manager Aoife Kealy.

She explained: "It's unique as it's designed to the best possible standard for non-amplified performances, and it is definitely world-class, but it also had to be designed to maximise amplified performances too.

"There's a fine line in getting the two specifications right, and we worked hard to do that." The theatre's first test will be its debut performance, as the sold-out Russian State Ballet performance of Swan Lake is non-amplified.

Later, stars such as Ronan Keating, Paul Brady, Josh Ritter, Christy Moore and Gilbert O'Sullivan will be able to check out the acoustics.

Chartered Land will hand over the keys to Live Nation later this month.

Aoife explained: "It's a building for the public, built by a developer, and it's a place everyone will want to visit.

"It should attract foreign visitors, too."

Standing on the vast stage, the 2,111-seater theatre looks positively cosy.

But from the vantage point on the upper circle the immense size of the auditorium becomes obvious.

The attention to detail is striking, with Aoife explaining: "The building is very much in keeping with its surroundings at Grand Canal Dock.

"Liebskind said he wanted to bring water into the auditorium, so there are acoustically transparent sails on the ceiling, and the ribs along the wall represent the upturned wreck of a ship."

She added: "Every seat row has its own air supply, and each seat is designed to represent the human body so even if the theatre is only half full you'll get the same sound."

The attention to detail even extends to the carpet design, with a pattern resembling deconstructed music.


And those who purchase tickets for box seats will enjoy prime viewing spots. Unlike some of Ireland's older theatres, there's no danger of being caught behind a pillar here, with every single seat enjoying a direct sight line to the orchestra pit.

Numerous bars and stylish drinks tables will make intervals a very sociable occasion. And for those lucky enough to enjoy membership of the theatre's private club, it looks set to become the hottest venue in town. Kitted out with a long bar, mirrored walls and floor to ceiling, it has views out over the Grand Canal Basin.

Fortunately, getting to and from the venue on foot will be easy, thanks to the nearby Dart station, and the opening of the Samuel Beckett Bridge means that the Luas line is also a short walk away.