A production written by Sheffield-born Chris Bush, with music by Richard Hawley, set around Park Hill, performed in Sheffield’s most famous theatre – it doesn’t get much more Sheffield than this. Standing at the Sky’s Edge brings together the writing talent of Chris Bush with classic songs and new music from Richard Hawley, in a new production centred around the polarising housing estate that has dominated the city’s skyline for six decades.
Opening to residents in 1959, the brutalist concrete estate of Park Hill and its "streets in the sky" were billed as a revolutionary solution to the Sheffield’s post-war working-class housing crisis. However, in the 1980s – dogged by the steel strikes and plant closures, widespread unemployment and poor maintenance – Park Hill fell into disrepair and gained a bad reputation, while tenants began to move out. Cut to the present day and the estate, by now Grade II listed, is the subject of an urban regeneration scheme, which seeks to breathe new life into the controversial project.
Standing at the Sky’s Edge zooms in on the stories of three different families in one Park Hill flat over the course of the estate’s history. Rose (Rachael Wooding) and Harry (Robert Lonsdale) move into Park Hill in the early 1960s, full of gratitude for their modern new home and optimism about Harry’s future as the youngest foreman the steelworks has ever seen. In 1989, teenager Joy (Faith Omole) moves in with her family, who are new arrivals to the UK from Liberia. More recently, in 2016, Poppy (Alex Young) seeks a new start in the refreshed flat after leaving her life in London following a break-up.
The tales which play out in Standing at the Sky’s Edge echo the story of Sheffield itself, charting post-war optimism, industry and new arrivals; a fractured community coping with the decimation of the steelworks; and renewed hope and investment plagued by some uncomfortable questions around gentrification and the human cost of regeneration.
Hawley’s music is almost in conversation with the plot that unfolds here, capturing the mood and the sentiment of the moment rather than telling the story directly. Particular highlights are Maimuma Memon as Nikki’s belting performance of Open Up Your Door, and the group renditions of Standing at the Sky’s Edge, as well the suitably foreboding There’s a Storm A-Comin’.
A stark set design by Ben Stones envisions the flat where the stories play out, in front of a raised concrete balcony where characters come and go. Lynne Parker’s clever choreography too, captures both private despair within the walls of the flat, and the communal hustle and bustle of the "streets in the sky". The three timelines actually play out simultaneously here, which at times can feel a little awkward in the confines of the flat, but are helped along in the second act as the connections between the characters’ stories are revealed.
Standing at the Sky’s Edge is first and foremost about Sheffield, but more broadly, looks at how social and political change impact private realities and what it really takes to make a place, a home. Of course, the mix of the city’s history, Hawley’s music, and a plethora of in-jokes and local references make this a particular treat for Sheffield audiences. Acting as a kind of melancholy and hopeful song sung back to the city, Standing at the Sky’s Edge is something special.
- Words by
- Emma Liasides