Standing At The Sky’s Edge is set on the infamous Park Hill housing estate in Sheffield.
The musical sprawls across 60 turbulent years of British history and is an absolute triumph.
The iconic words, ‘I love you will u marry me’, graffitied onto a bridge above the city in 2001 and still visible to this day in neon lights, greet you on entering the Olivier Theatre – a perfect venue for such an ambitious piece of storytelling.
The lyrical ingenuity of Richard Hawley’s music is exquisite throughout.
He captures the sense of promise that many residents reported after moving into the estate in the opening number:
‘As the dawn breaks/over roof slates/hope hung high on every washing line’.
The Park Hill community initially consisted of close to 1,000 flats, four pubs, a school, a doctor’s surgery and had ‘walkways wide enough to let a milk float go by’.
These walkways were affectionately known as: ‘streets in the sky’.
Standing At The Sky’s Edge is a story written by Chris Bush and inventively directed by Robert Hastie.
It charts the political upheaval and unrest that residents of the Park Hill estate experienced from the 1960s to the present day.
We see first-hand the effects of the steel industry crisis in the 70s, witness up close the dereliction of the building after years of underfunding and neglect and consider, through more than one perspective, what the process of gentrification does to a community.
The characters, whose fortunes we come to truly care about, pose questions such as:
Where do I belong and what does the word home mean? What remains of us in the places we have left?
In 1960, Harry (Robert Lonsdale) has dreams to be the ‘youngest foreman in history’.
He is full of ambition and pride when he moves into the estate with his newlywed Rose (Rachael Wooding).
In 1989, Joy (Faith Omole) is coming to terms with being a refugee in Sheffield after fleeing a war-torn Liberia.
She falls in love with Jimmy (Samuel Jordan) who still curiously visits the estate despite no longer living there.
While in 2017, Poppy (Alex Young) tries to make a new start for herself in Sheffield, her heart still reeling from a break-up with Nikki (Maimuna Memon).
Their lives seamlessly interweave across the decades that separate them, gliding past one another in moments of joy and despair.
Hope often seems precarious but is nevertheless alive, even in the most testing moments.
Occasionally, a character will leap into song and the mood in the auditorium feels more like a gig.
These remarkable vocal performances put the audience into moments of rapture.
Yes, this musical is a love letter to Sheffield.
It’s also a hand reaching out to anyone who has grappled with questions of belonging or tried to start anew.
Standing At The Sky’s Edge plays at The National Theatre until 25 March.
Featured image credit: Douglas Gibson