Sunderland Empire reopens its doors to a standing ovation after 18 months of closure due to covid

The jewel in the crown of Sunderland’s culture scene is shining brightly once more as the Empire theatre finally reopened its doors.

Friday, 3rd September 2021, 11:05 am
Updated Friday, 3rd September 2021, 4:50 pm

It’s been 18 months since the Sunderland Empire was able to host live audiences, the longest period it’s been closed since it rose into the city skyline in 1907.

One of the final pieces in putting the city back together post-pandemic, it was quite a sight to see the lights glittering at this iconic Grade II-listed venue once more.

And what a show to come back to! It seemed fitting that it would be more of a gig than a musical for reopening night with a one night only performance of What’s Love Got To Do With It?

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Theatre director Marie Nixon presents a boquet of flowers to sisters (left) Theresa Ford and Irene Bryden who were first in line as the Empire Theatre re-opens after 18 months. Picture by FRANK REID.

The Tina Turner tribute show is a romp through the music of the iconic star and had a packed house on their feet and dancing by the second song.

In the big wig was leading lady Elesha Paul Moses who pulled off the distinctive strut and hair flicks of Tina perfectly.

Vocally, she was a real power house as she belted out almost two hours of hits, from the power ballads to the dancefloor fillers with an impressive stamina.

It felt pretty emotional to be back enjoying the collectiveness of live performance as we all sang along to hits such as the titular What’s Love Got To Do With It?, Proud Mary, Nutbush City Limits, Private Dancer and River Deep.

A queue of theatre goers waiting to enter the Empire Theatre as it re-opens after 18 months. Picture by FRANK REID.

Emotional too for the Empire staff to see the venue alive again.

New theatre director Marie Nixon took on the role just a week before the country was plunged into the first lockdown and has spent much of the past 18 months working in the Empire alone while her colleagues were on furlough.

She gave an address to the audience before curtain up saying: “On behalf of the whole team here I’d really like to thank you so much for all of your support and for being here today and to welcome you back to our beautiful theatre.

"You’re our very first audience at our very first show in 535 days, can you believe it. I’d also like to thank the wonderful Sunderland Empire team who’ve worked so hard and waited so long to prepare everything for you tonight and we are all so excited to be here.”

Theatre director Marie Nixon cuts the ribbon as the Empire Theatre re-opens after 18 months. Picture by FRANK REID.

After a rip-roaring hair-flicking opening show, the Empire is back with a full season of shows including Dirty Dancing, The Rocky Horror Show, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Snow White pantomime and much more.

Covid measures

Although with restrictions eased, sitting and watching a show at the Empire is the same as it always was, there’s some covid secure measures in place upon entry.

Entry times are staggered and people will need to show their Covid status pre-entry, either with a Covid passport or proof of negative lateral flow test.

Stilt walkers entertain the crowds as the Empire Theatre re-opens after 18 months. Picture by FRANK REID.

The venue strongly recommends that all visitors wear a face covering whilst walking around the venue. Theatre staff wear face coverings.

Extra sanitisation stations are in place and the venue has gone cashless with card payments only.

Read More

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Theatre director Marie Nixon prepares to cut the ribbon as staff watch on during the re-opening of the Empire Theatre after 18 months. Picture by FRANK REID.
Queues outside of the Empire Theatre as it re-opens after 18 months. Picture by FRANK REID.
Sunderland Empire reopens after 18 months closed