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Sunderland Empire

Sunderland Empire

Sunderland Empire Overview

Vesta Tilley laid the foundation stone of what is now the Sunderland Empire on 29 September 1906 and took to the stage on 1 July 1907 to officially declare the theatre open. 

The Theatre was masterminded by two of the contemporary heads of British theatre, Edward Moss and Osward Stoll, but it was a third man, Richard Thornton, who bears far greater significance to the Sunderland Empire. Thornton, originally from South Shields, came from the lowly beginnings of a busker on Marsden sea front and went on to become the manager of a run down music hall in Union Street, South Shields. Thornton generated enough capital from this venture to rapidly climb the theatrical ladder and so on his re-location to Sunderland, he quickly established control of The Avenue Theatre and Opera House and  The Theatre Royal, sadly no longer here. In a short space of time, Thornton was successful and wealthy enough to enter into partnership with Edward Moss, thus forming an organisation which transformed the northern theatre provinces of the early 1900s.

The Thornton/Moss partnership went on to establish Empire Palaces throughout the North with admission policies geared to the economic constraints of the day. This enabled the working classes to attend comfortable and clean venues and see quality productions for possibly the first time. This upgrading of theatre venues paved the way for their acceptance as centres for family entertainment.

Thornton soon became restless in this partnership and decided it was time to build a theatre of his own. His theatre was built by local architects William and TR Milburn on its present site and was known as the Empire Palace.

The Sunderland Empire has changed considerably since 1907. Originally, the domed tower was surmounted with a revolving sphere which bore the figure of Terpischore the Greek Goddess of dance, not as is commonly thought, Vesta Tilley. There were many main entrances to the theatre, each of which had their own payboxes – little arched hatches in the walls where you brought your ticket and then, having gone through a tiny entrance in single file, were able to take your seats.  Incidentally, these doors can still be seen on the outside of the theatre.

After the Depression of the 20s, a revival came to theatre during the late 1930s. By the outbreak of war, theatre was back on its feet with summer rep keeping the place open even during its normally dark months. During WW2, a bomb exploded near the theatre, badly rocking it. As a safety precaution, the globe and the statue of Terpsichore were removed. The original statue can now be seen at the head of the main staircase. A replica stands at the top of the spectacular dome.

During the forties, the theatre could do no wrong as everyone was desperate for entertainment, but then came the fifties and the advent of television and cinemascope. A consequence meant  the closure of hundreds of theatres, while the remaining ones struggled and played to ever decreasing audiences.

The owners of the Sunderland Empire decided to close rather than watch their glorious ship sink. Remarkably, the Corporation (now Sunderland City Council) took the unprecedented step of buying the theatre for £50,000. After a short closure the Sunderland Empire re-opened as the first ‘number one’ theatre under civic control.

Since the re-opening in 1960 the theatre has been refurbished and re-equipped three times. The former Music Hall area of 1907 was turned into a cinema during the 70s and since then, has been turned into a function room. In 1986, the main auditorium and foyer were extensively re-decorated and wheelchair access and toilet facilities were provided in the stalls area along with a modernised bar. Also in 1986, the box office ticket system was completely computerised, as was the stage lighting system in 1987. In 1989, refurbishment brought new carpeting throughout the auditorium and a new capacity of over 2,000.  In 1995 a brand new dressing room block which also housed a dance studio was built and property was also acquired on High Street West to house the theatre’s administration, marketing and management offices. In 2000, the Box Office was relocated to make way for a new foyer bar.

October 2000 heralded the dawn of a new era for the Sunderland Empire with SFX (formerly Apollo Leisure (UK) Ltd) taking over the management of the building for a 12 year contract.

Later that year, Clear Channel Entertainment (now Live Nation) bought SFX and in 2004, a major multi-million pound refurbishment occurred. The re-development was managed by Sunderland City Council and funded as follows:

- £1.9m from One NorthEast through the TyneWear Partnership

- £1.5m from the City Council’s Strategic Investment Fund

- £1.15m from Clear Channel Entertainment Ltd

Following the installation of a larger, flat stage, an increase in the height of the fly tower and enhancement to technology and backstage facilities, the venue is now the only one between Edinburgh and Manchester capable of staging large-scale West End productions. 

In January 2010, the Ambassador Theatre Group LTD (ATG) bought the management contract of Live Nation’s theatrical venues. ATG is one of the world's leading live entertainment companies, with 39 venues in the UK and offices in Australia and the USA. Co-founded by Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire and with Greg Dyke (former Director General of the BBC) as executive chairman, ATG’s ownership cements Sunderland Empire’s status as a superpower in theatre and ensures that the venue remains the North East’s premier entertainment venue.

Wed 20 - Sat 23
Jun 2018   Jun 2018
This Is Elvis
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Thu 21
Jun 2018
Fusion Project
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Thu 28 - Sun 01
Jun 2018   Jul 2018
Awful Auntie
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Thu 28 - Sun 01
Jun 2018   Jul 2018
Awful Auntie - Get Creative Workshop
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Wed 04
Jul 2018
King of Pop - The Legend Continues
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Sat 07
Jul 2018
Baby Take A Bow
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Sat 07
Jul 2018
Take Centre Stage
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Sun 08
Jul 2018
Rewriting the Stars
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Thu 12
Jul 2018
Mercury: The Ultimate Queen Tribute
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Sat 14
Jul 2018
The Carpenters Story
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Sun 15
Jul 2018
Some Guys Have All the Luck - The Rod Stewart Story
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Wed 18
Jul 2018
The ELO Experience
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Thu 19
Jul 2018
ABBA Mania
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Fri 20
Jul 2018
The Simon and Garfunkel Story
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Sat 21
Jul 2018
Jason Manford - Muddle Class
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Sun 22
Jul 2018
Lights, Camera, Action
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Mon 23
Jul 2018
Zazz 2018
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Thu 26
Jul 2018
The Dreamboys
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Fri 27
Jul 2018
Fastlove - A Tribute to George Michael
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Sat 28
Jul 2018
The Magic of Motown
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Wed 01
Aug 2018
Robert Temple - Comedy Hypnotist
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Thu 02
Aug 2018
Crooners
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Fri 03
Aug 2018
Barry Steele & Friends - The 30 Special The Roy Orbison Story
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Sat 04
Aug 2018
Icon
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Fri 10
Aug 2018
Bingo Mingle for Age UK
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Fri 24 - Sun 26
Aug 2018   Aug 2018
The League Of Gentlemen Live Again
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Tue 28 - Sat 01
Aug 2018   Sep 2018
Madagascar - Get Creative Workshop
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Tue 28 - Sat 01
Aug 2018   Sep 2018
Madagascar The Musical
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Thu 06 - Sat 29
Sep 2018   Sep 2018
Wicked (UK Tour)
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Sat 08
Sep 2018
Theatre Tour
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Sat 15
Sep 2018
Theatre Tour
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Sat 22
Sep 2018
Theatre Tour
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Sat 29
Sep 2018
Theatre Tour
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Sun 07
Oct 2018
You Win Again – Celebrating the Music of The Bee Gees
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Sun 14
Oct 2018
Roy Chubby Brown
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Tue 16
Oct 2018
Islands In The Stream
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Wed 17
Oct 2018
Beyond the Barricade
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Thu 18
Oct 2018
One Night of Elvis: Lee 'Memphis' King
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Sat 20
Oct 2018
Watch Out! The Spooks are Out
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Wed 24 - Sat 17
Oct 2018   Nov 2018
Miss Saigon
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Sat 27
Oct 2018
Theatre Tour
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Sat 03
Nov 2018
Theatre Tour
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Sat 10
Nov 2018
Theatre Tour
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Sat 17
Nov 2018
Theatre Tour
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Mon 19
Nov 2018
An Audience With Michael Bolton - My Life Story
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Tue 20
Nov 2018
Brendan Cole
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Wed 21 - Sat 24
Nov 2018   Nov 2018
Horrible Histories Terrible Tudors - Get Creative Workshop
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Wed 21 - Sat 24
Nov 2018   Nov 2018
Horrible Histories - Terrible Tudors
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Thu 22 - Sat 24
Nov 2018   Nov 2018
Horrible Histories - Awful Egyptians
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Sat 24
Nov 2018
Horrible Histories Awful Egyptians - Get Creative Workshop
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Fri 14 - Sun 06
Dec 2018   Jan 2019
Peter Pan
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Mon 14 - Sat 19
Jan 2019   Jan 2019
Benidorm
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Thu 24
Jan 2019
The Sensational 60s Experience
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Sat 26
Jan 2019
The Rolling Stones Story
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Mon 28 - Sat 02
Jan 2019   Feb 2019
The Rocky Horror Show
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Wed 06 - Sat 23
Feb 2019   Feb 2019
War Horse
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Mon 25
Feb 2019
Halfway to Paradise: The Billy Fury Story
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Thu 28 - Sat 02
Feb 2019   Mar 2019
The Mousetrap
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Tue 19 - Sat 23
Mar 2019   Mar 2019
Calendar Girls - The Musical
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Thu 28
Mar 2019
Birmingham Royal Ballet - Beauty and the Beast First Steps
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Thu 28 - Sat 30
Mar 2019   Mar 2019
Birmingham Royal Ballet - Beauty and the Beast
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Sat 30
Mar 2019
Birmingham Royal Ballet - Beauty and the Beast On Stage Class
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Sun 07
Apr 2019
The Bootleg Beatles: Live in Concert
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Mon 08 - Sat 13
Apr 2019   Apr 2019
Fame the Musical
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Mon 20 - Sat 25
May 2019   May 2019
Club Tropicana
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Sat 01 - Sun 02
Jun 2019   Jun 2019
Strictly Come Dancing The Professionals
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Mon 24 - Sat 06
Jun 2019   Jul 2019
Kinky Boots
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland

Tue 23 - Sat 27
Jul 2019   Jul 2019
Rock of Ages
Sunderland Empire, Sunderland