Retro: Empire strikes back

The Sunderland Empire's  main entrance in July 1975
The Sunderland Empire's main entrance in July 1975
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SUNDERLAND’S Empire Theatre closed in 1972 – because it was so successful.

 Theatre bosses opted to close the curtains on the Edwardian theatre during the summer months, to allow a major refurbishment to be carried out.

 New seats were installed in the stalls and grand circle as part of the revamp, with the front two rows of the stalls built on moveable platforms.

“This will allow them to be removed altogether when a large orchestra pit is needed,” said theatre director Royston Todds.

 “At present the orchestra pit is so small that there is very little room when we get an orchestra of any size playing.”

 The revamp also saw access to the upper circle opened up from the main foyer – a previously unheard of ‘luxury.’

 “Theatre-goers using the upper circle had a separate entrance at the side before, with no way through from the foyer,” said Mr Todds.

 “It was very unsatisfactory to send people outside to a messy entrance, possibly to queue in the rain, just because they had cheaper seats.

 “To overcome this problem, builders have gone through two walls leading to the old gallery stairs, which have been out of use for years.”

 Painters from Sunderland Public Works Department also used 300 gallons of paint to give the theatre’s auditorium a fresh new look.

 A colour combination of mauves, golds and dark greens was introduced, together with bright white “on the embellishments.”

 “We are trying to modernise the look of the theatre without destroying the old feel of it,” added Mr Todds.