The Sunderland Story is coming to the Empire Theatre in Sunderland on 17 May.
The buzz is already in the air with Sunderland AFC fans counting the days until they get to see the history of their club unfold right before their eyes.
For those, who haven’t heard of it yet, it’s a brilliant feel-good show about family, friends and a lifelong love of the red and white stripes of a beloved football club.
The story follows Carter and Thompson’s families. During a wake for their beloved grandfather William, they realise that much of their family history always seems to link back to the story of Sunderland AFC.
Recounted through the decades, for many this show will take you on a trip down memory lane, while for younger fans this will be a joyous education. A chance to discover the club’s history, all told through drama, comedy and music.
The Sunderland Story is about the people of Sunderland City and their love of one club.
The wonderful cast is busy with last-minute preparations, during which, we were lucky enough to spend a few moments chatting with Peter Peverley, playing family friend Charlie Thompson.
For those who think the name sounds familiar, it’s no wonder, as Peter has been in the business for around 30 years, playing in our beloved Emmerdale, Romeo And Juliet, and Hamlet to name a few.
Here in the North East, he is best known for playing a one-man show in The Bobby Thompson Story. A brilliant, heartfelt and very funny celebration of the life and work of this comic legend.
Now, a fan of the Sunderland AFC himself, Peter is extremely excited to be playing a role in The Sunderland story. His excitement is contagious as he talks about the behind-the-scenes, his role and the most important element of the play – the audience.
The debut of the play is just around the corner now, so naturally, I must ask, how much preparation goes into performing the role of Charlie?
Quite a bit! The casting was around eight weeks ago, and then we got the script a little while back. Even before that, I was already thinking about the character and the show itself. In total, we will have three weeks of rehearsals and currently, we are in our last week.
The script is quite technical, there are lots of dates and names to remember. Because it’s the history of the club, we paid extra attention to make sure the details are accurate and correct. There are also a lot of songs to learn.
This week we are putting the visuals together because it’s going to be a very visual show with lots of projections and film on there.
Football and theatre are an interesting combination. What can the audience expect from the set?
We use a lot of Sunderland Football Club memorabilia. We have football scarves, some of them from the thirties, seventies and so on.
Mostly, we have a lot of small props and details in the show that tell a story, like wallets and other hand props.
The visuals will also be in the show, with the big screen and everything. I think probably the most exciting prop will be a really old football shirt from the 1890s. That hasn’t arrived yet, because it’s quite valuable, but we are hoping we can include that in the show.
The Sunderland Story is such an important play, walking viewers through decades of the club’s history and as a big fan of the club yourself, I must ask, what does it mean for you to be playing the role of Charlie?
It’s great, I’m reliving a lot of memories from early games. I think the most significant thing is that it feels like we are writing the play as it unfolds before our eyes. With the club now being qualified for the playoffs, it’s upped the stakes a little bit for all of us here.
Now, more than ever, it’s important to acknowledge what the club has achieved this year.
With all these exciting things happening and the possibility of the club playing at Wembley, everything is up in the air. Up until the last minute we will have to rewrite the ending, just to give the club justice.
They already had such a fantastic season and the relationship they built with the fans is something else. It’s just very exciting to be a part of that.
You have a very rich background in theatre and an impressive stage career. What are you most excited about when playing in The Sunderland Story?
Just the interaction we’re going to have with the audience because it’s such a live show. Naturally, we have the storyline of the characters and the history of the football club, but it’s going to be a show that is mostly about the audience.
There will be lots of room for the audience to come in and be a part of the show. Football is a very important part of people’s lives here in Sunderland. They are very passionate about it, so we encourage them to sing along and just have a great time.
Another thing I have to mention is that this play is quite unconventional. It was made keeping the audience in mind. Definitely, not a play where you just sit down well-behaved.
It’s telling the characters and the club’s story in a way that is engaging and interesting for them. If I had to describe it, I would say, it’s just like spending an afternoon in the bar with the characters. That is what it feels like.
You’re playing a role of a family friend Charlie Thompson. What is he like?
Charlie is in his early fifties and he’s extremely attached to the club.
Billy is Charlie’s childhood friend and they have a shared memory of going to see the games, it’s something they both grew up with. However, Charlie is a bit of a pessimist.
Because the club has its ups and downs, Charlie is always quite pessimistic about it and focuses on the negative side more. He’s one of the fans that always sees the glass half empty. Of course, he comes around at the end of it.
We all have our own ways of dealing with the club’s history and their results. While we are still in the rehearsal phase, I am learning about the character every day.
Are there any similarities between you and Charlie?
I’d like to think I’m a bit more optimistic! But Charlie’s got a great sense of humour. He has my sense of humour which I suppose is natural because it’s me playing him. There’s a lot of me in there.
I imagine there will be a lot of Sunderland AFC fans in the audience, but is there a wider audience beyond that?
Absolutely! I think anyone that has a bit of history with the club will really enjoy the show. Young football fans will be able to learn and relive history. Of course, locals that were born and bred here.
But that’s not to say you have to be a die-hard fan to enjoy the show.
If you live in Sunderland, if you have an interest in history, maybe someone in your family really enjoys football, if you love live music – the band will be in the show. Comedy fans will appreciate it too, there’s film footage, and archives – there is truly something for everyone.
We even encourage Newcastle fans to come, there’s a lot of Newcastle in the show as well and it would be great to have them.
The show takes the viewer from highs to lows, but what is your favourite act of the play?
We’ve just rehearsed the section which I really like. The second half of the show is where characters reminisce about the father and the grandfather that passed away.
There’s a lovely piece of music and it underscores the whole section and it’s really just quite moving. It’s the memories that are connected with those that passed away, like going to see the game with them and the first time they all fell in love with the club.
I’ve mentioned there’s lots about the history and then there’s comedy, but then there is also this melancholy section where we highlight the emotional aspect of what it means to be a football fan. There’s just this beautiful balance there and I’m really enjoying rehearsing that at the moment.
What do you hope the audience takes away from The Sunderland Story?
I just hope they come and it uplifts them. Makes them proud of where they come from and gives them a really heartwarming evening, one that ends with a smile on their face.
Hopefully, the show will stir up some memories for the audience, where they think and talk about it even on the drive home.
There is this wonderful feeling you get when you remember something you hadn’t thought of in years and you go “Oh gosh, I remember that!”. It would be lovely if The Sunderland Story could do that for them.
The show will play at Sunderland Empire Theatre from 17 May until 27 May. Tickets are available here.