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REVIEW: The Sunderland Story at Sunderland Empire


The Sunderland Story
Sunderland Empire
Wednesday 17 – Saturday 27 May 2023.

A show about the passionate fans, from a passionate city, of a passionate team is enjoying a two week exclusive run at the Sunderland Empire. 

I've seen a number of theatrical performances trying to convey the emotional attachment that fans have about their club. Rarely do they have the impact of this show. This is, in no small part, down to the show happening in a much bigger venue. This show regularly smashes the fourth wall, and when it does, hundreds of fans join in. Just like a match, this is very much a communal event. 

The production which follows the Carter family features an entirely local cast starring Joe Caffrey as Billy Carter (dad), Jayne Mackenzie as Ruby Carter (mam), Ainsley Fannan as Kevin Carter (son), Jude Nelson as Neila Carter (daughter), Peter Peverley as family friend Charlie Thompson, and James Hedley as The Busker.

Cast captured with Producer Peter Hackett centre

On the stage is a resident band, aptly named the Black Cats, who not only accompany the singing, they often chip in - sometimes as fans of the opposing side. For this is Sunderland-The Musical. The audience know all the words too.
The basis of the story is the wake of a beloved Grandfather- and Sunderland fan - becomes a re-education of one of the grand kids. An excuse,  if you need one, the tell the story of Sunderland AFC. 

As the tale head towards more recent times, the audience reaction changes. They recognise the players on the screen. They know the tales of the hard fought battles. Eventually they hit the era that the members of the audience recognise. 
Just like a nail biting cup match, the tension and the atmosphere builds in the theatre audience. Their reactions becoming more heartfelt. 

Production Photos: David James Wood

But that's not the only part of the show. This cast involves actors who have been performing around our region.  They know each other and that chemistry onstage cannot be faked. They also include the audience in the "private" jokes. 
Keeping a fact heavy script interesting was challenging and they pulled it off.

On press night a number of Sunderland stars had been invited along. It was a nice touch to see members of the 73 Cup winning team on stage getting a proper acknowledgement. The final guest appearances included Tony Mowbray. The recent exploits of his young team in the play offs were loudly recognised with a standing ovation. 

As a non-Sunderland fan I have to say that I was moved. Clearly the show, like the team, gets under the skin. It finds the pulse of a proud city. Fans of the club will not be disappointed. 

Review: Stephen Oliver

Tickets are available online from ATG Tickets: 

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