Review of The Sunderland Story at the Empire, 'a fun, booming celebration of the city and its football club’
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It begins at a family funeral, where football anecdotes are exchanged between the SAFC daft family members, beginning back in 1879, as indeed did the club.
Most of the major events at the club are covered, up to the present day. The glories are magnified and the failures made light of, or glossed over. Quite right too. The aim is to provide an rousing evening.
It is essentially a musical comedy, with many of the tunes familiar from the terraces of the Stadium of Light, giving the audience an opportunity to join in with Sunderland ‘Til I Die, Can’t Help Falling in Love and many more. Parents can be reassured that the Lee Howey song does not feature.
There are pantomime elements to the performance, with silly costumes, sillier jokes and cock-ups becoming part of the pleasure.
Unusually, the musicians, The Black Cat Band, sit stage right and a couple of them also act. A gifted violinist from Edinburgh also provided a wonderfully atrocious Newcastle accent, which went down very well.
Those behind the show clearly know their audience, as well as their history. Was there any need to mention Sunderland’s 9-1 win at St James’ Park in 1908 quite so often? Obviously not, but no one complained. As we said, know your audience.
However, the writers clearly had no qualms about adding considerable pathos to the production, amid the tomfoolery. Some sections are outright melancholic.
Inevitably, the 1973 story is given prominence and the introduction onstage of the actual Malone, Montgomery and Pitt was a genuinely uplifting moment. Some dress circlers were clearly becoming emotional.
Excellent use is made of the stage backdrop with PowerPoint (or whatever) images from decades past, footage of famous goals and headlines from the Sunderland Echo.
There are some pretty good gags too. This reviewer’s favourite concerned a character who bewilderingly considers the sensational Bobby Gurney to be “a jinx”.
The Sunderland Story is a fun, booming celebration of the city and its football club. The audience pretty much knows in advance what to expect to the point that, like a pantomime, you have to wonder why anyone who doesn’t enjoy the show would bother attending in the first place.
This production isn’t likely to travel, nor does it want to. Much of it is quite esoteric and those without certain knowledge of club and city may be lost off at certain points.
For example, outsiders might struggle to understand why an old picture of Presto in Market Square, or the mere mention of Jacky White’s Market should receive such a delighted response.
That’s their problem. It serves them right for not coming from Sunderland.