Entertaining Sunderland – What was hot, what was not and what’s coming

Rihanna

Rihanna

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It’s been a busy year in the world of entertainments with superstar gigs on Wearside and celebrated arts events. Entertainments editor KATY WHEELER brings you her best and worst top threes of 2013.

Arts and Culture Events

•Opening of Pop Recs Ltd, June

If anyone deserves a pat on the back for their efforts in 2013 it’s Frankie & the Heartstrings.

The five-piece Sunderland band took over a derelict shop in Fawcett Street and turned it into a multi-purpose arts venue, record shop, coffee shop and gig space.

In a drive to bring more culture to their home town, they’ve put on a host of free gigs by the likes of Badly Drawn Boy and Ross Jarman from The Cribs. And there’s more planned for 2014.

•Lumiere in Durham, December

Around 175,000 visitors saw Durham’s urban landscape transformed into a magical nocturnal exhibition by more than 25 installations, all made from light – including Elephantastic, a larger-than-life 3D promenading elephant. The four-day festival was a triumph, yet again.

•The Social in Sunderland, October and November

This new celebration of contemporary photography saw streets and open spaces in Sunderland city centre overtaken by large-scale artworks.

The month-long festival was the largest festival of its kind in the city and also featured intriguing exhibitions in galleries such as NGCA in Fawcett Street and the Winter Gardens.

Theatre

•Ghost at Sunderland Empire, November

The future of theatre met the age-old story of true love for this stage experience which had audiences gripped.

Technology-wise, this show was light years ahead of its competitors and, at times, it felt as though you were in an IMax theatre as the audience was hurtled through the 3D streets of New York.

But despite the spectacle of spectres walking through doors, the show managed to maintain a classic love story at its core, helped along the way by music from Sunderland-born Dave Stewart.

•The Rocky Horror Show at Sunderland Empire, February

Superstar TV show winner Ben Forster made an eye-catching return to the theatre which sparked his loved of the stage.

The Millfield stage star, who rose to fame after winning the ITV search for a new lead in Jesus Christ Superstar, swapped Jesus’ loincloth for suspenders to play Brad in The Rocky Horror Show.

•A Funny Thing Happened on the Way To Durham at Durham Gala Theatre, July

Commissioned as part of the return of The Lindisfarne Gospels to the region, this play took the audience on a dash through 1400 years of North East history.

Reminiscent of Oh! What A Lovely War and Close the Coalhouse Door, the production was comprised of a series of sketches taking the audience on an irreverent romp through the often bloody history of the weighty tome.

Gigs

•Rihanna at Stadium of Light, June

Ten years ago many would have scoffed if someone said the biggest names in music would play Sunderland each summer.

But a decade later the city has welcomed music luminaries such as Bruce Springsteen, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Oasis and more.

This year it was the turn of Rihanna, Bon Jovi and the first North East Live. Though Rihanna’s performance at the stadium drew criticism from many, and though I have seen her perform better live at smaller venues, this was still one of my highlights of the year. Raunchy, raucous and riveting to watch, Rihanna put on a real show.

•Edwyn Collins at Pop Recs Ltd, June

There were queues around the block to see Ivor Novello Award-winning Edwyn Collins cap off a fortnight of free gigs to launch the Pop Recs Ltd record store in Fawcett Street.

The former Orange Juice frontman agreed to play a rare intimate gig for free after being impressed by the record shop’s ethos of providing a cultural hub for all ages in the city centre.

•The Lake Poets at Durham Gala Theatre, July

This year’s Brass Festival brought music-lovers a special collaboration between Sunderland’s The Lake Poets and Stanhope Silver Band – and what a union it was. Particularly poignant was the two acts’ performance of The Lake Poet-penned Vane Tempest.

It was an utterly brilliant, magnetic fusion of contemporary meets classical musicians which paid a magnificent tribute to the region’s industrial past with lines such as: “They don’t care for you and me, we don’t live in London, do we.”

The worst moments of 2013

•Rihanna

Rihanna isn’t known for family-friendly entertainment, but it wasn’t just her lewd stage moves which drew complaints. The behaviour of her fans also caused a stir, including one who was kicked out of the star’s Stadium of Light concert after she hurled racist abuse at staff and sank her teeth into one of them.

•Independent

Sunderland had to do without its most influential music venue for five months when Independent was forced to close in January due to a demolition order. The Holmeside venue came back with a bang though, transforming the derelict Van Mildert store into an improved version of the bar and club.

•Charlotte Geordie Shore

Former St Anthony’s schoolgirl Charlotte Crosby hit the headlines and shocked viewers when she was filmed wetting the bed on Celebrity Big Brother in September. It didn’t stop the Geordie Shore star from Biddick Woods winning the show. Though she and her Geordie Shore co-stars have become the Marmite of reality TV, she won over viewers with her naive charm.

...and what to look forward to in 2014

•One Direction at Stadium of Light

Love them or hate them, there’s no denying One Direction are the biggest band in the world at the moment – and they’re heading to Sunderland.

1D mania will hit Wearside on May 28 when the teen heart-throbs open the UK leg of their Where We Are 2014 World Tour at the Stadium of Light. Standard tickets for the show are sold out.

North East Live will also return in 2014, but it’s not yet known whether the stadium will host a third gig this summer.

•Split Festival in Sunderland

After a fallow year, the city’s biggest home-grown music event will return in 2014. As well as being a celebration of local talent, the boutique festival, spearheaded by The Futureheads, has seen the likes of The Charlatans and Johnny Rotten play at Ashbrooke Sports Ground.

•War Horse at Sunderland Empire

A sneak preview of this show at the Empire in September whetted Wearside’s appetite for this West End hit show which will play the Empire for three weeks in April and May.

The National Theatre production is a touching and enthralling retelling of Michael Morpurgo’s celebrated 1982 novel.