Wednesday 6 March 2024

Standing at the Sky's Edge - Review

Gillian Lynne Theatre, London


Music and lyrics by Richard Hawley
Book by Chris Bush
Directed by Robert Hastie

The cast of Standing at the Sky's Edge

Transferring to the West End from an acclaimed run at the National Theatre, Standing At The Sky’s Edge charts three occupancies of a duplex home built in Sheffield’s Park Hill estate. The show’s timeframe runs from the estate’s opening as a massive social housing project in 1959, replacing a significant proportion of the city's slum accommodation, then through a period of neglect and dilapidation and finally to the estate's gentrification in the early 21st century and transition into private ownership. Park Hill was a massive development and to this day remains the largest listed work of architecture in Europe. A prominent feature of Sheffield’s cityscape, the estate's history offered a bold conceit for the musical’s narrative.

It is a disappointment therefore that Chris Bush’s book is little more than a thread of cliched agitprop observations of the duplex's three occupying households. From a newly wed steelworker and his bride escaping poverty, through to refugees fleeing civil war in Liberia and ultimately, a comfortably middle-class professional running away from London and a failed relationship, Bush shoehorns in as many passing nods to Sheffield’s social landscape of the last 60 years as she can. The collapse of the steel industry, the miners’ strike, Thatcherism and even Brexit are all acknowledged with shallow passing references, though one can only speculate as to why the child grooming scandals that also tarnished so much of the South Yorkshire region during this period, fail to get a mention.

Richard Hawley’s songs are musically beautiful but lyrically lazy - the tunes land gorgeously on the ear but their frequent repetitions of phrases suggest a lack of creative wit behind the songs’ otherwise powerful foundations. The cast, as is to be expected on a leading London stage, are all magnificent with standout performances from Laura Pitt-Pulford, Rachael Wooding and Lauryn Redding. Ben Stone's stage designs together with Mark Henderson's lighting are equally impressive.

40 years ago Willy Russell's Blood Brothers offered a far sharper musical take on the impact of Thatcherism on England's north and of attempts by planners to rehouse a city's poor. Perhaps in a site-specific venue on the estate, Standing At The Sky's Edge may have packed more of a punch. The musical opened in Sheffield in 2019 where regional ticket pricing would have made it affordable to many of the city’s residents. In the capital however, where ticket prices are comparatively eye-watering, agitprop has been replaced by champagne-socialism.

Booking until 3rd August
Photo credit: Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

No comments:

Post a Comment