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Standing At The Sky's Edge - Review

“Standing At The Sky’s Edge” stands out as one of the mot impeccably crafted musicals I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing, rightfully earning the title of Best New Musical at the 2023 Olivier Awards. With Richard Hawley, member of Longpigs and Pulp, composing the music and Chris Bush penning the book, this production is a genius ode to a Grade II listed building in Sheffield. 

Standing at the sky's edge
Act one finale

Park Hill, a Juggernaut concrete structure, was initially constructed as council association housing, designed to house nearly 3,000 residents. Despite its former status as a cutting-edge architectural marvel, the building eventually fell into disrepair. However, in recent years, it has undergone revitalisation, catering to a more upmarket clientele, while still retaining traces of its stories past, including the famous graffiti inscription “I love you will u marry me.” Set within one of the building’s apartments, the musical delves into the lives of its diverse occupants spanning three generations over a period of 60 years. 

In the 1960’s, the narrative unfolds around the lives of Rose (Rachel Wooding) and Harry (Joel Harper-Jackson), who eagerly move into the newly constructed housing complex. However, their idyllic life takes a turn with the rise of Thatcherism, leading to Harry’s job loss at the steelworks. Rose and Harry give the audience a tour of their new flat, depicted onstage with a blueprint outline featuring beige-coloured furnishings for the kitchen, dining area, and lounge. The entire stage is reminiscent of concrete, but is brought to vibrant life thanks to the exceptional lighting design. 

Standing at the sky's edge
Grace (Sharlene Hector), Joy (Elizabeth Ayodele) and George (Baker Mukasa)

Elizabeth Ayodele delivers a compelling performance as Joy, an immigrant from Liberia who relocates with her cousin to the apartments in the late 1980s. During this period, the once vibrant community has deteriorated, plagued by social unrest and violence, prompting the housing officer to warn them to “Keep their doors locked.” Ayodele’s vocals effortlessly compliment the Brit-pop style music, emphasising that this production is far from your typical jazz-hand tap dance musical — it is a raw and deeply poignant narrative underscored by infectious yet heartrending melodies. Each song has the potential to become a chart-topping hit, with the sound design playing into the intended emotion of the scenes. As Joy’s story unfolds, she crosses paths with Jimmy (Samuel Jordan), a local lad from Sheffield, igniting a tender romance that resonates with the audience. 

Standing at the sky's edge
Poppy (Laura Pitt-Pulford), Joy (Elizabeth Ayodele) and Rose (Rachel Wooding)

The final decade of the narrative focuses on Poppy, a recently single woman who has relocated from London in search of new beginnings. Laura Pitt-Pulford delivers a standout performance in this role, her vocals gave me goosebumps with every note sung — truly exceptional, leaving a lasting impression. Remarkably, and for the first time in my experience, each cast member boast lead singer-worthy vocals, adding to the musicals overall sonic brilliance. Throughout the production, the storytelling overlaps (but the characters don’t interact with one and other), you may see Joy at the dinner table with her family, Rose preparing dinner, and Poppy pouring herself yet another generous gin and tonic in the lounge. There is a hilarious scene dedicated the the beloved Henderson’s Relish (‘enderson’s, you mean?), which hits every beat comedically. 

As a theatrical experience, the narrative strikes a delicate balance between comedy and tragedy, I frequently burst out laughing, but also left the theatre wiping the tears that were streaming down my cheeks — the play really does stand the full spectrum of the human psyche. While the final revelation may not come as a surprise to keen observers, its seamless integration into the storyline adds and organic and profoundly beautiful touch to the production. I always like to be fair and critical in my reviews, yet in this instance I find myself hard-pressed to identify even the most minor flaw. For me, this show is perfection. Notably, the electrifying chaos that concludes the first act is a spectacle to behold. 

Standing at the sky's edge
The years were told with the staging

“Standing At The Sky’s Edge” is said to be a ‘love letter to Sheffield’, though I’m not sure that is the right phrase. It delves into the multifaceted history of the city, exploring its highs and lows with unflinching honesty. The authenticity of the writer’s lived experience in Sheffield shines brightly through her incredible storytelling. Personally, I found this production utterly captivating, I loved this show! You should book tickets and see this show as soon as possible! “Standing At The Sky’s Edge” is at the Gillian Lynne Theatre in London, running until August 3rd, 2024.

Standing at the sky's edge
Musical Artwork


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