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Standing at the Sky’s Edge

Book by Chris Bush, Music and Lyrics by Richard Hawley

(Gillian Lynne Theatre, 8 February – 3 August 2024)


Review by Karla Williams


Rarely have I attended the theatre and been so emotionally affected by the characters and stories playing out in front of me, and the few times that has happened it didn’t involve music. Chris Bush and Richard Hawley’s musical, following the lives of three families living on a Sheffield council estate, connected so deeply that thinking about it still makes me cry. 

The drama begins in the 1960s when Rose and Harry move into their brand-new flat on the recently completed Park Hill Estate. Joy, Grace and George, who are refugees from Liberia, move into the same flat in the 1980s. Finally, Poppy buys the flat after moving away from London in 2015.

In the 60s, Harry is on track to become the youngest foreman onsite, allowing Rose to stop work so they can start a family. But unexpected redundancies mean Rose becomes the breadwinner and Harry never recovers from the loss of his dream. In the 80s, Joy wants to be with her parents and not in cold Sheffield with her cousins, Grace and George. Until she meets Jimmy, and a relationship begins that changes the course of her life. And finally, Poppy is trying to get over a breakup and wants a fresh start. She’s looking for community, which she eventually finds within the estate. Despite being very different people living in different times, the recurring themes of community, love and loss greatly impact on each of their journeys.

On entering the theatre, I was immediately impressed by the set design and staging. The flat takes centre stage, with the iconic walkways of the real-life estate recreated around it. Several scenes feature all three families in the flat at the same time. The direction is beautifully orchestrated and choreographed, with separate scenes layered over each other as they’re acted out.  

The heart of the play is its characters, and writer Chris Bush has created emotionally engaging and relatable stories. I connected personally with Rose, a woman who desperately loves her husband, but struggles to help him recover when he is made redundant from the steelworks. She begins to realise that her love is not enough to save him, and during her heart-breaking performance of ‘After The Rain’, a song exploring her drift away from him, I was fighting back tears. 

Incredible writing is brought to life by a cast of phenomenal actors. Rachael Wooding as Rose movingly portrays both her strength and vulnerability. And Laura Pitt-Pulford as Poppy captures the emotional dilemma of wanting a new life without her ex-partner, while being uncertain of change. Equally, Lauryn Redding as the ex-partner Nikki, a wisecracking, outgoing Liverpudlian, had me both laughing and crying. Joel Harper-Jackson as Harry, lacking the capability to help himself and too proud to seek for help, genuinely moved me. With its large cast of characters, I loved how diverse the community of people from the estate were. 

Since its original production at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield in 2019, Standing on the Sky’s Edge has been revived three times. The show has won an Olivier Award and had sold-out runs at the National Theatre and in Sheffield. A fantastic mix of humour, history, and emotion: if you haven’t seen this play – you need to.