A theatre which has been entertaining Sunderland for 70 years has been given royal recognition.
The Royalty Theatre, off Chester Road, has been awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, the equivalent of an MBE for voluntary groups.
The community theatre, which this year marks its 95th season, will be presented with the honour by the Lord-Lieutenant of Tyne & Wear next month, after a performance of Mary Shelley.
Royalty Theatre chairman John Appleton, said: “We didn’t even know we had been given the award until people started sending us messages congratulating us.
“It took us all by surprise, but we are over the moon.
“For more than 90 seasons the theatre has been entertaining people and giving people something to do.
“So to be given this token of gratitude is a great honour.
“Over the years many people have gone on to a career in acting after starting at the theatre. Everyone has to start somewhere, and this is one of those places.”
Budding actors as young as 12 take part in its youth theatre, while its shows feature actors of all ages.
This season’s productions, which begin on September 21, include The Ladykillers, Rapunzal, 1984, Treasure Island, The Vagina Monologues, The Pitmen Painters and more. While the larger Empire Theatre has a strong focus on musicals, the Royalty has an emphasis on drama and comedy.
“We are the only place in the city that’s producing regular plays, we have nine in the forthcoming season alone,” explained John.
The history of the Royalty Theatre can be traced to Victorian times, when it originally consisted of three houses and the Union Congregational Church.
Part of the building was used as a military hospital for sick soldiers from 1914-18, with separate quarters for the nurses created in a room next door.
It was transformed into a theatre just after the Second World War ended in 1945, when the drama club moved in.