The Royalty Theatre’s production of The Day After the Fair shows that there’s more to Sunderland’s theatre scene than The Empire.
Let’s get this out of the way. Full disclosure: I am a not member of the Royalty Theatre, but I have links with them. At least four actors I’ve worked with are members. I have a read-through of one of my scripts coming up, and I am in ongoing discussions about the possibility of a performance. As such, I am not really in a position to give an impartial review. However, I’ve given their Newcastle counterparts (the People’s Theatre) a few mentions now, so it’s only fair that the Royalty gets a look in too. For the record, none of the people I know at the Royalty are involved in this play.
I’ve previously argued, as have many other people, that the People’s Theatre in Newcastle is a valid alternative to the many professional theatres on offer, but in Sunderland the situation is even more polarised. The only professional theatre on offer is The Empire, which describes itself as “The West End of the North East”. That’s not a bad description, but like the West End, there is very little actual theatre on offer. Out of all the events on offer in the next six months, I can only see one thing that I’d call a play; the rest are musicals, ballet, opera, big-name celebrities, and musical tribute acts. (This compares to seven at the Theatre Royal, nine at Live Theatre and three at Northern Stage.) Which means that for actual theatre in Sunderland, you usually need to turn to a much obscurer building just west of the city centre. However, the Royalty Theatre is an amateur theatre, so this can mean anything from productions as good as the professionals to toe-curlingly lame village hall shows (“Didn’t they all try hard?”) So, what do we have here? Well, the Royalty’s offering for January (indeed virtually the only offering that month if you’re allergic to pantomimes) is Frank Harvey’s The Day After the Fair, which is based on a Thomas Hardy short story, On the Western Circuit.