Sunderland Empire opens on Thursday 2 September.

30 July 2021

As the anticipation builds for the reopening of the iconic Sunderland Empire at the beginning of September.

The venue has today released their Your Theatre Your Story campaign. The venue that recently celebrated its 114th Birthday has worked with advocates to produce a touching video to highlight and celebrate the importance of theatre and how the historical landmark has played a role in so many people’s lives.

Advocates from across the region’s media landscape including Steve Colman, Gilly Hope, Graeme Anderson and Michael Grahamslaw, alongside Julie Elliot, MP for Sunderland Central, Sharon Appleby, Chief Executive at Sunderland BID, Rebecca Ball, Chief Executive, Sunderland Culture, Kam Chera from Creative Inclusive Arts and influencers Laura Ferry and Gemma Jamison plus Kirsty Bond from Sunderland University’s Students’ Union have all shown their support and input into the emotive campaign. Pantomime favourites Dan Cunningham and Tom Whalley who’ll be returning in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in December 2021 also took centre stage once more alongside Sunderland born author and professional actor, Terry Deary to share their stage-side memories.

Marie Nixon, Theatre Director, Sunderland Empire said: 

“As we prepare to reopen our doors once more, the Your Theatre Your Story campaign, helps us mark a remarkable time in our history as well as reflect on the amazing memories that theatre and the Sunderland Empire holds for people across the region. We’re also keen to celebrate and rejoice in the new memories that will be created once the spectacular shows hit our stage once more in the coming weeks. We’re delighted that support from the Culture Recovery Fund has enabled us to pull off these magical memories together.”

Through the video which was produced by Mark Bell and the team at Second Draft, advocates were quick to highlight how much the Grade 2 listed theatre, which has been a centrepiece of Sunderland for so long had been missed when the Ghost Light was switched on over 14 months ago. 

Sharon Appleby, Chief Executive at Sunderland BID commented, “Sunderland Empire is such an iconic place and it’s been in the culture of the city for such a long time that everybody misses it.” Julie Elliot, MP for Sunderland Central commented, “It does play a role in everyone’s lives in this area.” Broadcaster, Gilly Hope added, “When you come into a theatre it’s about that collective experience,” and added, “I don’t think you’ve realised the importance of it until it’s not been there.” 

During the filming, Sunderland born author and professional actor Terry Deary, best known as the Horrible Histories Creator said “Sunderland Empire is important to me as it’s defined my life.” Terry reminisced about the first time he stepped onto the Sunderland Empire stage at just five years old, when his Dad brought him to watch a Christmas Variety Show and was asked up on stage to sing.

Terry said:

“All the lights were blazing on me, and everyone was listening to me as I sang Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer, and at the end everybody applauded, and as I walked off I was given ice cream, my first professional job! The thing is, it gave me this taste for theatre, from the age of five all I wanted to do was be a professional actor because of the Sunderland Empire and standing on this very spot.”

Terry Deary later returned to the Sunderland Empire stage when his books were adapted to a series of successful stage shows. Seventy years after his first stage debut he returned to take centre stage once more in Birmingham Stage Company’s production of The Groovy Greeks, although this time as a villain he was booed!

Steve Colman, Breakfast presenter at Smooth Radio North East also took the opportunity to take to the stage once more and recreate his memorable 1991 sword fight, which received critical acclaim from the then The Stage Magazine. 

Steve said:

“I remember I played Evil Jason on this very stage in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, me and the Prince designed and choreographed our own sword fight and I remember our long hours of bruising rehearsals over at the Leisure Centre. The Stage Magazine gave us a review and said it’s the best sword fight they’d ever seen performed – well what can you say to that!”

John Cliff, Head of Marketing and Communications, Sunderland Empire said:

“We are so grateful to our friends across the region who took time out to support us with this campaign. We have been overwhelmed with the amount of footage we secured over a day’s filming and so many stories and memories were openly shared. It’s amazing to see how much of a place the theatre holds in the hearts of people in the region. 

In addition, to the two-minute video, we’ll also now be collating a selection of interviews on our Sunderland Empire YouTube page which will be launched shortly, so as to not lose these key emotive memories and stories, alongside a host of special phone messages of support we’ve received from celebrities across the region including Melanie Hill and Rosie Ramsey which will be hitting our social channels, we’ve really appreciated all the messages. 

Filming had to be limited on the day, but we know there will be so many more stories and memories out there, we’d love to hear about these in the comments on our Sunderland Empire social media channels where the video has been posted.”

Pantomime favourites Dan Cunningham and Tom Whalley who’ll be returning for the festive season were happy to tread the boards once more.

Dan said I’m looking forward to seeing how much everybody else has missed it, from a performance point of view I’m looking forward to seeing that. People are hungry for it, people want to be entertained, people want to laugh and people want that escapism that only live theatre can bring because it’s a one-off event.”

Tom said, “It’s a unique thing that we’re part of as performers, and then audiences are too, they feel part of something so unique, which has been missing.” Dan added, “It doesn’t start until the audience walks in, the audience is your extra cast member.”

Marie Nixon, Theatre Director, Sunderland Empire added: 

“So many of those interviewed, including Terry Deary, fondly remember being a child when they had their first Sunderland Empire experience, which is a pure delight to hear and to also learn how this theatre experience has shaped their lives is awe-inspiring. Panto memories seemed to be a strong theme running through the day and we were delighted that a couple of our cast for 2021, Tom Whalley and Dan Cunningham were also able to join us to document this monumental moment for us with their infectious personalities.

As Dan said ‘theatre doesn’t start until the audience walks in' and this is so true, we really can’t wait to welcome our audiences back and create even more memories and inspire the next generation with theatre, Thursday 2nd September is going to be one emotional evening!”

For bookings call 0844 871 7615 (Applicable fees apply. Calls cost 7ppm plus your phone company’s standard network access charge) or visit