Tag Archives: Robert Hastie



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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Operation Mincemeat

Operation Mincemeat


Fortune Theatre

OPERATION MINCEMEAT at the Fortune Theatre


Operation Mincemeat

“hilarious from start to finish”


A little over four years ago, in an eighty-seater black box near Regents Park, there was a workshop presentation of a new musical about an obscure World War II intelligence mission centring around a homeless corpse. The joint collaborators were all in agreement that it was a bit of a crackpot idea, but the foursome ran with it. They called themselves ‘SpitLip’ and described themselves as ‘makers of big, dumb musicals’. Of the four (David Cummings, Felix Hagan, Natasha Hodgson and Zoë Roberts), Hagan was the only one not to take to the stage. Instead, Claire-Marie Hall and Jak Malone were pressganged into the cast for the show’s first outing.

And they are there still. They are the first to admit that they never thought ‘it would go as far as this’. Along the way, though, the backers and the audiences have begged to differ. From the New Diorama, to Southwark Playhouse, to Riverside Studios and finally washing ashore in the West End. In retrospect, its transfer was inevitable for this “unmissable, irresistible, audacious and adorable; intelligent and invigorating” show. The quotation is from my review at Southwark two years ago – and it still applies. In fact, I could take the lazy option and copy and paste chunks of the original review (I won’t). Little has changed. Director Rob Hastie has been brought in to smooth the transfer to the figurative ‘bigger stage’. In essence, the playing space itself is no larger than either Southwark or Riverside. Ben Stones’ set and costume design adds gloss, right through to the ‘Glitzy Finale’ and Mark Henderson’s lighting releases the show from its budgetary shackles, but let’s face it – the show was already beyond improvement.

By its very nature it appears to be constantly on the edge of falling apart; an intended shambolic veneer that reflects the ‘fact-is-stranger-than-fiction’ story it tells. The real-life plot is too far-fetched to have worked, carried out by the brash and privileged but inept MI5 agents. Hitler needed convincing that the allies were not going to invade Sicily. “Act as if you do when you don’t… act as if you will when you won’t”. The lyrics from just one of the overwhelmingly catchy numbers epitomise the double bluffs that cram the book and the songs. To achieve this, Charles Cholmondeley (Cumming) hatches the idea to dump a corpse off the coast Spain, dressed as an Air Force Officer and bearing false documents that outline British plans to advance on Sardinia. Ewen Montagu (Hodgson) latches on to the absurd plan convincing Colonel ‘Johnny’ Bevan (Roberts) of its unfailing potential. Or rather of the lack of alternative strategies. The Germans were fooled completely. That’s not a spoiler – it is historical fact. Ewen Montagu even wrote a film about it years later – ‘The Man Who Never Was’. Throwaway snippets like these are scattered throughout the show, delivered with the flawless eye for satire by the company. Each cast member multi-role the numerous and outlandish characters and, irrespective of gender, always convincing in their attention to detail. It is ludicrous, scandalous, overblown and absurd; occasionally bordering on tasteless (all compliments).

“Operation Mincemeat” is a delight – hilarious from start to finish. But ingenious too. The comedy conceals its hidden depths. Beneath the Pythonesque book and beguilingly eclectic score lies a profundity that breaks through if you let it. “Dear Bill” (sung by Malone as the secretary Hester Leggett) is a ripple of pure poignancy. A simple, aching moment of personal expression that veils a global anti-war poem.

SpitLip never thought ‘it would go as far as this’. They have all stayed on board though, and it’s now going to be a long operation. The West End run keeps extending. At some point they might have to hand over the reins. The unmistakable chemistry that burns through the company is part of the attraction. The bar is set high for prospective cast changes. It is intriguing; not just to see where “Operation Mincemeat” (still their debut show) goes from here, but to see what else is up their sleeves. But for now, they have conquered the West End. Mission accomplished. Success!



Reviewed on 19th July 2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Matt Crockett




Operation Mincemeat Earlier Reviews:


Operation Mincemeat | ★★★★★ | New Diorama Theatre | May 2019
Operation Mincemeat | ★★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | August 2021


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