Standing At The Sky’s Edge Review: A triumphant celebration of Sheffield’s history

The Crucible, Sheffield.

Sheffield’s new musical, a multi-generational homage to the histories within the Park Hill flats, has been received with standing ovation in a packed out playhouse, night after night.

With music by Sheffield-born and Mercury prize winning Richard Hawley and written by Chris Bush, the play has been greatly anticipated by theatre critics and Sheffield residents alike.

Set in the iconic Grade Two listed tower block that has dominated the Sheffield skyline since the 1950’s, the story follows the lives, loves and losses across three decades of residents in the building.

Production designer Ben Stones deserves the well earned recognition for the sparse, brutalist set that perfectly encapsulates the concrete interior and the small tragedies that play out within its walls.

It is a blank slate for the characters to write their stories upon and what stories they have to tell. The three interweaving timelines offer glimpses into the history of the flats in all its different stages of birth, decline, and rebirth.

There’s Harry and Rose, an optimistic and idealistic young couple moving in when the flats were first built in the 60’s, Joy, a Libyan refugee who finds the 80’s version of the flats an austere sanctuary, and Poppy, a thirty-something fleeing a failed relationship in 2017.

The Grade Two listed building Park Hill flats, on which the musical is based.

More often than not, the overlapping narratives slide alongside each other as smoothly as the characters silently occupy the same scene across different timelines.

Occasionally, however, the ambition of the show stretches a little too tightly and the links between each decade are exposed until they are as stark as the architecture.

The music, a combination of Hawley’s hits of old, as well as an original soundtrack, are haunting, full of memory and longing. Sometimes, a scene leads on naturally to a song, but other times, though beautifully performed, the musical element feels a little more heavy-handed. 

The set pieces are ambitious and bustling, suggesting at the vastness of the structure, and giving what feels like a truthful reflection of the many lives that were lived out throughout the years in Park Hill.

The script is littered with in-jokes about Henderson’s Relish, Thatcherism and miscommunications in thick South Yorkshire accents. The loudest cheer certainly came when a character made a dig at the expense of Leeds.

Arguably, some of these elements are somewhat preaching to the converted. For a Sheffield audience, the nostalgia helped to gloss over a few rough edges and uncut seams, but that feeling might not be echoed if the play was to go on tour around the country.

Equally, the modern-day narrative is perhaps the least successful in questioning the future of the flats and their gentrification, while trying to make a point about the humble origins and the displacement of original tenants.

Yet when it works, and it mainly works splendidly, it soars.

It is a glorious celebration of Northern soul and Sheffield history, and a wider examination of lives lived large, but made small by the building they are housed within.

Humanity pulses insatiably, in all its flaws, through the music and the narrative. Standing at The Sky’s Edge is a champion of people and places in all their different forms and Steel City can’t get enough.

Standing At The Sky’s Edge is performing at the Crucible between 15th March- 6th April.

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (including a 15 minute interval)

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