Standing at the Sky’s Edge – review:

“Whether you are a musical theatre fan or simply seeking an unforgettable theatrical experience, it's not one to be missed”
Gillian Lynne Theatre
Review by: Alex HL Taylor
afridiziak ratings
Published: Monday 04 March 2023, 9:30am

The cast of Standing at the Sky's Edge in the West End. Credit Brinkhoff-Moegenburg. Featuring the I Love You Bridge copyright 2001 Jason Lowe
The cast of Standing at the Sky’s Edge in the West End. Credit Brinkhoff-Moegenburg. Featuring the I Love You Bridge copyright 2001 Jason Lowe

Standing at the Sky’s Edge is an immersive jukebox musical set against the backdrop of Sheffield’s iconic Park Hill estate. The musical showcase combines Richard Hawley’s heartfelt songs with the poignant stories of three interconnected families. Unsurprisingly, the play is packed with northern spirit thanks to the writer and director, Sheffield-native Chris Bush and Sheffield Theatre Artistic Director Robert Hastie.

Through the ballads of love, hope and loss, the play reflects the complicated realities of life in Park Hill from 1960 through to 2020. The story moves back and forth through time, allowing it to touch on important elements of Sheffield’s history, namely the miner’s strikes, ongoing lack of jobs, and gentrification of Park Hill estate. The audience gets an intimate look into each family’s significant moments, all set in a single flat they shared over the decades.

At the heart of Standing at the Sky’s Edge are its loveable characters, brought to life by a stellar cast. We start in 1960, when Rose (Rachael Wooding) and her husband Harry (Joel Harper-Jackson) are delighted to move into Park Hill, upgraded from their former lives and excited to have a child.

We then meet Liberian refugees Joy (Elizabeth Ayodele), George (Baker Mukasa), and Grace (Sharlene Hector), who move into the flat in 1979, struggling to adjust but hoping for a better life. Finally, in 2015, we meet Poppy (Laura Pitt-Pulford), who has escaped her heartbreak in London for a fresh start in Sheffield.

After settling in, we fast forward to the characters’ lives in 1985, 2002, and 2019. In the wake of the miner’s strikes, the bubble bursts for Rose and Harry. Joy isn’t impressed by life in England but befriends neighbour Jimmy (Samuel Jordan), and the pair begins a warm and fuzzy, albeit challenging, love story.

Poppy has brought her London frivolities to Park Hill (aubergine orecchiette, anyone?) but, despite her best efforts to fit in, remains lonely under the surface. Things all change when her ex, Nikki (Lauryn Redding) comes to town.

The running time is 2:50. Although the songs are central, I wouldn’t have minded some being shorter for more character development. Having more time to connect with the tragedies would’ve been nice, and punchlines might’ve relied less on tropes.

Either way, the cast acted and sang impeccably. Each got their own ballads and sang in unison with the ensemble. All were strong in vocal ability, but Lauryn Redding particularly shone, making a late entrance but stealing the show.

Each character’s ups and downs are threaded together through Richard Hawley’s classics. ‘There’s a Storm A-Comin’ packed a real punch at the end of Act One, as trouble ensued for all. Since the music comes from Hawley’s backlog, the lyrics aren’t literal to the story but work in relating each song to every character. Appropriately, the play feels more like a rock concert at times, which is spectacular across the huge stage.

The space is continually transformed despite the fixed set of the Park Hill concrete, owing to the remarkable lighting and ensemble. The stage is flooded and emptied with light and people, making each song and scene feel completely different. It’s all helped by the band, who add intensity and charm, visible on the second and third levels of the set.

The movement truly makes the show. Choreographer Lynne Page has created a wonder of modern dance, enhancing the sense of community and union. The cast of 32, all on stage at once, was aptly overwhelming at times. Still, the huge stage and impressive choreography meant nothing felt cramped. The dancing perfectly captured daily life’s joy and monotony, with repetitive and retrograde movements giving an exciting, uneasy ‘Truman-show’ spectacle.

Standing at the Sky’s Edge celebrates community, resilience, and hope. It’s a love letter to Sheffield and the enduring spirit we need to navigate our changing cityscapes. Whether you are a musical theatre fan or simply seeking an unforgettable theatrical experience, it’s not one to be missed.

Standing at the Sky’s Edge is playing at the Gillian Lynne Theatre. Find out more.