The Sunderland Story: What to expect as play about SAFC heads to the Empire
The great highs and lows of following the Black Cats is the basis of a new play heading to the Sunderland Empire stage.
The Sunderland Story will run at the Sunderland Empire from Wednesday, May 17 to Saturday, May 27, just days after the 50th anniversary of the Black Cats’ historic FA Cup win.
Told through music, comedy and emotion, the show will take audiences from the club’s first trophy to the last season’s play-off final win via legendary managers and scorers including Watson, Stokoe, Reid, Cochrane, Campbell, and Gurney.
It follows generations of the Carters, a Sunderland family who’ve followed SAFC since the club began in 1879, through all the trials and tribulations, with their passion for the Black Cats passed on from parent to child throughout the decades.
Auditions have recently been held at the Stadium of Light for local actors to play the four family members across multi-generations, with the other two on-stage characters being a family friend and a busker. Four musicians will also soundscape the piece.
Writer Nicky Alt says, unlike clubs such as Manchester United, SAFC is still a club where its fan base is largely born and bred in the city itself.
"Sunderland is still a club of its city, it hasn’t been taken away from the fans,” he said. "At clubs like Liverpool and Manchester United, a large proportion of the crowd are fans from all over the world. But at a Sunderland home game if you have 40,000 people, generally it’s 40,000 locals. It’s not like that now at those big clubs, and we miss it.”
The playwright has already had great success in dramatising the pride and passion of his home club, Liverpool FC in play One Night in Istanbul, which became the fastest-selling show at Liverpool Empire theatre after being watched by 25,000 people in a short run in the spring of 2009, and subsequent production, You’ll Never Walk Alone.
It was followed by the dramatisation of being a Celtic fan in Celtic The Musical, which earned rave reviews and sold out at Glasgow's Pavilion Theatre in 2016 and 2018.
Nicky said: “What was great about the plays was seeing the reaction of the audience. You’d have three generations of the same family coming to see the plays, some of whom were tough fellas who’d cry and people would say to me ‘I’ve never seen my dad open up to me like that’.”
Old editions of the Sunderland Echo and Football Echo are also being used in the play, chronicling the games throughout the ages.
Of course, The Sunderland Story will celebrate one of the biggest moments in SAFC’s history 50 years ago - that glorious 1973 FA Cup win, which will feature among the scenes.
Nicky remembers being a schoolboy in Liverpool at the time and mates turning up for kickabouts in SAFC kits.
"Sunderland were the underdogs at that game and that win might be the biggest moment of all time in FA Cup history, at a time when the FA Cup was the biggest cup in the world,” he said.
The play has already received great support from the club, with club historian Rob Mason, SAFC legends Kevin Ball and Jimmy Montgomery and club chairman Kyril Louis-Dreyfus attending the launch at Sunderland Empire last year.