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Standing at The Sky’s Edge

Standing At The Sky’s Edge’s portrayal of high-rise communities in the iconic concrete housing estate could hardly be bettered.

It’s an evocative setting.

Park Hill was built in the 1950’s as a solution to the city’s social housing. This new musical is all about that estate, its residents and is something very special indeed. It celebrates the people, place and  times.

Written by Chris Bush and with songs by Richard Hawley this new musical delicately tells the story of three very different families through generations in the 1960s, 80s, and 2000s on Sheffield’s most notorious estate. 

The songs? 

Well, here, Hawley’s lethargic northern atmospheric music sound like being punched in the face feels, in a good way. As comforting as a premium whiskey. 

The music pulses and then retracts before erupting in emotional outbursts. The results are kind of brilliant: a show of world-beating standard yet still intimate and gentle, a cherishing of the mundane, a blast of the everyday, a love of life. 

The story? Bush’s book cleverly tells the tale of three generations of Park Hill tenants. The words probably read like quirky poetry on the page but they cut through the air with wit & warmth when spoken. 

It is inevitably kaleidoscopic and somewhat beautifully fragmented, leaving the audience to piece together the connections. It’s political too; unpacking the destructive role of class in British society. It feels vital in its portrait of a divided nation.

Technically, Alex Young delivers an all-round emotionally true performance that grips from the start with ‘Lady Solitude’. Nevertheless, a fine cast shine consistently.

In the best possible sense, Standing At The Sky’s Edge is like a 21st Century Blood Brothers: authentic socialist principles intact, a gripping story and frankly sensational songs.

We get the industrial pain, Thatcher despair, Brexit Britain & more, it wears its political heart on its sleeve. It isn’t West End razzle dazzle, it is theatre rooted in its time(s) and place. 

There are some big gloriously unifying moments, too — all the ingredients are here for a massive crossover theatre moment, and it couldn’t happen to a more deserving creative team. 

In Act 1 closing number ‘There’s a Storm A-Comin’ a sofa is lobbed off a balcony, litter bins are emptied across the stage & the current political crisis context lends the audacious choreography  an added intensity. 

Robert Hastie’s production delights in being visceral. Ben Stone’s concrete multi-level design are to be both stunningly simple and enchanting; it all adds up to something greater than the sum of its parts. 

Seriously, this show made grown men around me weep, made me fall deeper in love with Sheffield than I have ever been before, could save as many relationships as it ignites. It touched people around me deeply. 

Act 2 swells the heart completely and invites the audience in with the unavailingly stirring ‘Standing At The Sky’s Edge’ during this storming scene the company takes off; ensemble are startlingly confrontational. 

I mean, bloody hell. 

Later on, intimacy suits: ‘After The Rain’ is so fragile as to nearly come apart at the seams. Importantly, it was a lot of fun.

This is a musical that, in Robert Hastie’s beautifully clear production, left the heart full & the brain buzzing. 

Standing at The Sky’s Edge deserves to transfer to our Royal National Theatre. 

Cheers, Rufus. 

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