Lauryn Redding as Nikki, Laura Pitt-Pulford as Poppy and the cast of Standing at the Sky's Edge in the West End. Credit Brinkhoff-Moegenburg.

Standing at the Sky’s Edge at the Gillian Lynne Theatre

A moving story told awkwardly leaves quite a bit to be desired in a new musical with a lot of promise. Standing at the Sky’s Edge is a love letter to Sheffield that despite moments of brilliance, never quite hits home.

Rachael Wooding as Rose in Standing at the Sky's Edge in the West End. Credit Brinkhoff-Moegenburg.
Rachael Wooding as Rose in Standing at the Sky’s Edge in the West End. Credit Brinkhoff-Moegenburg.

In the listed tower block on the hill in Sheffield is the neon sign ‘I love you will you marry me’, it hangs in the Gillian Lynne Theatre, perhaps tempting you to think that this will be a slightly soppy love story set in a council estate. It is not. Instead, we meet Joy, a young Liberian girl who has moved in with her aunt and uncle. Twenty years earlier a young couple moved in and the swinging sixties set their hopes high, and in 2015 a heartbroken woman moved into the now renovated flats. All find love, eventually, and some fall out of love, and come back, all battling the problems of their times. As romance fades, change steps forward, Thatcherism looms large, gentrification threatens an abandoned community and all kinds of unexpected changes shatter hopes, and some come with new opportunities.

The musical book, written by Chris Bush, is the heart of the show. We meet recognisable, but individually compelling characters. They are charming, and warm to you quickly, so when challenges do set in, you are along for the ride. The writing of the music, however, lacked the smoothness of the book. Songs rarely interacted with scenes, instead opting to fall into a formulaic routine in which the song would simply retread the previous scene. Musical numbers scarcely advance the plot or take us to new places, resulting in a feeling that this was a play that had a few songs added in hindsight.

There are some moments when it comes together well. There are some fleeting moments when it comes together, plotlines overlap and resonance between periods can be compelling.

It is, however, quite spectacular. Ben Stones’s design gestures towards the famous brutalist architecture of the Park Hill Estate, and the strapline of the show ‘I love you will you marry me’ looms large in neon letters above the stage while playing a surprisingly small part in the piece.

Perhaps it could have gotten into the greyer areas of gentrification, and commentary on austerity and Thatcherism feel glanced over, but maybe that isn’t what this show is. It is as advertised, a love letter to Sheffield’s housing estates, and while this has undeniably compelling moments to it, the awkwardness with which the music and dialogue interact left me underwhelmed.

3 stars

Review by Tom Carter

Directed by Sheffield Theatres’ Artistic Director Robert Hastie, with irresistible songs of legendary singer-songwriter Richard Hawley and a beautiful, hilarious and gut-wrenching book by Chris Bush, Standing at the Sky’s Edge reveals the history of modern Britain through the stories of the landmark housing estate – a heartfelt exploration of the power of community and what it is we all call home.

By: Chris Bush
Songs by: Richard Hawley
Director: Robert Hastie
Choreography: Lynne Page
Cast list: Elizabeth Ayodele (as Joy), Joel Harper-Jackson (as Harry), Sharlene Hector (as Grace), Mel Lowe (as Connie), Laura Pitt-Pulford (as Poppy), Lauryn Redding (as Nikki), Samuel Jordan (as Jimmy), Baker Mukasa (as George), Alastair Natkiel (as Marcus), Rachael Wooding (as Rose)
Design: Ben Stones
Costumes: Ben Stones
Lighting: Mark Henderson
Sound: Bobby Aitken
Other info: Orchestrations and arrangements by Tom Deering, makeup design by Cynthia De La Rosa

Standing at the Sky’s Edge
Gillian Lynne Theatre

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