Sunderland Empire Theatre
7 High Street W,
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Ambassador Entertainment (Official)
Operated by: Ambassador Theatre Group
Functions: Live Theatre
The Sunderland Empire Theatre is located on the corner of High Street West and Garden Place. It was opened was a variety theatre on 1st July 1907 with a bill headed by Vesta Tilley (who had laid the foundation stone on 29th June 1906. Included in the opening programme was the Bioscope showing ‘the latest and most up to date pictures’. The Empire Theatre was built for Richard Thornton, and in 1909 Edward Moss and Oswald Stoll joined in the management of the theatre. Seating is provided in orchestra stalls, dress circle, upper circle and gallery levels, with two large boxes adjacent to the proscenium.
In the early-1920’s Charlie Chaplin Keystone comedies were screened as part of the variety programme, and D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” was screened here. In 1929 it was equipped with a Western Electric(WE) sound system, and began playing week-long runs of films, interspersed with a variety programme. In 1933 it became part of the Moss Empires Theatres chain. Stars who appeared on the stage include George Formby, Gracie Fields, and in the 1940’s Laurel & Hardy, John Boles, Bobby Breen and the Nicholas Brothers.
In the 1950’s and 1960’s, stars such as Frankie Vaughan, David Whitfield, Tommy Steele, Cliff Richard, Helen Shapiro and The Beatles appeared here. In 1960, the Empire Theatre was taken over by the local authority. Later operated by SFX, Live Nation & Clearview Entertainment, it is now part of the Ambassador Theatre Group.
The Sunderland Empire Theatre is a Grade II* Listed building.
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