Gillian Lynne Theatre

STANDING AT THE SKY’S EDGE at the Gillian Lynne Theatre


“it is beautiful, and moving, and has real grit”

Standing at the Sky’s Edge is an unabashed love letter to Sheffield. It follows three generations of residents in Park Hill, the infamous brutalist 1960s former housing estate which dominates the Sheffield skyline. Each story seethes with the unfairness of the treatment of the residents, but the play as a whole is full of joy and hope.

To call it a musical feels inaccurate, it is a play with music. Writer Chris Bush has structured the play around the music of Richard Hawley, perhaps best known as former guitarist for Pulp, and as such sometimes the songs feel incongruous, but often serve to energise and buoy up the mood.

We follow three sets of Park Hill residents, across three timelines. There is Harry (Joel Harper-Jackson) the youngest ever foreman at the steel factory, and his wife Rose, (Rachael Wooding) who move in as thrilled former slum dwellers in 1960. Then in 1989 the same flat sees the arrival of Joy (Elizabeth Ayodele), Grace (Sharlene Hector) and George (Baker Mukasa) who have fled Liberia hoping for a better life. Joy’s doubts about this new home are softened as she forms an incredibly sweet bond with local boy Jimmy (Samuel Jordan). Finally in 2015 Poppy (Laura Pitt-Pulford) has bought the flat, but, having moved up from London by herself, she struggles to find the sense of community she has been hoping for.

As with all multi-generational stories, there will be ones that are more engaging. The London audience responded well to Poppy’s story, chortling at her doubt that Henderson’s Relish would enhance her Ottolenghi dish. Personally, I found Poppy’s story quite painful to watch, especially when her troubled romance is set against such legitimate struggles. However, that is the point. The play doesn’t shy away from questions of privilege, and struggle being relative. Richard Hawley tells that after a preview to only former and current Park Hill residents, a former resident shook the hand of one of the gentrifying new wave, and invited them to the pub. It is a play which bridges divides and fosters empathy.

“Ben Stones’ set is astonishing”

Robert Hastie’s direction intertwines these stories, so they never feel separate and isolated. One scene sees everyone having dinner, passing around the Henderson’s Relish, emphasising the idea at the core of this play – all of these very different people have lived their lives in this one flat.

The cast is enormous, and extremely talented. Particular standouts are Rachael Wooding as practical and pragmatic Rose, Samuel Jordan as Jimmy, both lovesick and revolutionary, and Lauryn Redding as Nikki, Poppy’s bold and bolshy ex-girlfriend.

Ben Stones’ set is astonishing, building an on-stage version of Park Hill, complete with the famous ‘I love you, will u marry me’ graffiti. There is a maze of levels, and the band peek out from within the brutalist jungle. Mark Henderson’s lighting design is vibrant and exciting, especially in the musical numbers. Ben Stones’ costume design is also thoughtfully evoked, especially to show the passing of time in these tangled lives.

There are parts of this production which don’t quite land. For example, an awkwardly poetic narrator, who brings a pomposity to a play which thrives in its earnest realism.

But it is beautiful, and moving, and has real grit, without being impossibly bleak.

STANDING AT THE SKY’S EDGE at the Gillian Lynne Theatre

Reviewed on 28th February 2024

by Auriol Reddaway

Photography by Brinkhoff Moegenburg




Previously reviewed at this venue:

THE LEHMAN TRILOGY | ★★★★★ | February 2023
THE LION, THE WITCH & THE WARDROBE | ★★★★★ | July 2022
CINDERELLA | ★★★★★ | August 2021



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