Sunderland Empire Theatre

Sunderland Empire Theatre is a beautiful theatre that is over 100 years old. It first opened in 1907, and is located in North East London. Sunderland Empire Theatre is currently operated by Ambassador Theatre Group, but the building itself is owned by the city council.

Sunderland Empire

The History of Sunderland Empire

Originally called The Empire Palace, the theatre was opened on 1 July 1907. The original foundation was laid just a year earlier in 1906. Richard Thornton would fund the construction of the theatre.

The theatre would go on to host a variety of different shows and performances all the way through the mid-1920s. At this time, the industry was slowing down. This led the theatre to try something still relatively new at the time: Projections. Motion pictures were seen in 1930 at the theatre and seemed to reinvent the theatre. Once again, the magnificent theatre was the centre of attention in the town.

During the time of World War II, a beautiful statue of Terpsichore was removed. A bomb had landed close to the building during the war, and to ensure the safety of all patrons, the statue was removed.

Now, you can see a statue on the top, but this is not the original. Instead, the original now sits at the top of the main staircase within the theatre.

1956 was a very happy time for the theatre’s owners as Tommy Steele took stage in the theatre. Steele, a rock signer went on to play at the theatre many times throughout his career. The theatre seemed to be doing quite well through the 40s and 50s, but financial strain would eventually hit the theatre. Quite common in the country, the theatre actually closed its doors in May of 1959.

Thankfully, the close was short-lived. In 1960, the Sunderland Council purchased the theatre. It reopened in 1960 and in perfect time for The Beatles to take the world by storm. During the group’s first UK tour, they played at the theatre.

The theatre would go on to offer musicals, opera, dance, ballet and a variety of other productions on stage. The world famous Helen Mirren made her debut on stage at Sunderland Empire.

In 2004, a major refurbishment costing 4.5 million pounds took place. This was done to expand the stage and the height of the tower. The goal was to allow West End shows to be able to be performed, and this was seen as a major success.

Since the refurbishment, the following shows have taken place:

  • Starlight Express
  • Miss Saigon
  • Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
  • Footloose
  • Scrooge
  • Cinderella

The theatre has done exceptionally well after being leased to Ambassador Theatre Group in 2010.

Ghosts are quite common in the theatre. Sid James would have a heart attack in the theatre and would die on his way to get medical attention. It is said that his ghost still haunts the backstage area, waiting to perform onstage. There are two other ghosts that are also said to occupy to space.

Seating and Capacity

Seating is broken down into four main tiers:

  • Stalls
  • Dress Circle
  • Upper Circle
  • Gallery

Upon booking, you can choose your desired seats as long as they are available. There is a full seating capacity of 1,860 patrons. The Dress Circle also has rooms on the left and right side for people to stand and watch the show.

If all of the standing positions are occupied during the show, the maximum capacity seen is 2,200 people. While not common, larger shows do have many patrons standing to watch the show.

Ambassador Lounge

Before the show, the theatre welcomes all guests to take part in the Ambassador Lounge. This is done by purchasing a package, which is available during booking. The following packages are seen:

  • Green Label: A drink at the bar is included. Drink choices are limited. The price is just 5 pounds.
  • Blue Label: Available for 15 pounds, guests will receive a welcome drink, variety box and a programme or gift.
  • Red Label: For just 15 pounds, patrons receive a glass of Prosecco, nibbles and access to the cloakroom.
  • Yellow Label: Just 30 pounds, patrons receive a box of chocolates and chilled champagne.
  • Purple Label: The best of the best. For just 45 pounds, a person receives everything found within the red and yellow label as well as a programme or theatre gift.

Getting to the Theatre

The theatre is located on High Street West in Sunderland. By car, you will be able to take the A183 or A1231 to the theatre. The theatre recommends mapping out your route using Google Maps.

Buses, using Simply Go, will also drop visitors off close to the arena.

Remember to try and get to the theatre as early as possible. You can relax and enjoy a drink inside before the show and will be able to get to your seat earlier as a result.

You can find the address here, get contact details here and take a look at the seating plan here.