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Richard Hawley - Standing At The Sky’s Edge

  by Nicky Crewe

published: 28 / 4 / 2019

Richard Hawley - Standing At The Sky’s Edge

Set aside your prejudices. 'Standing at the Sky’s Edge' isn’t a conventional musical. It’s a fantastic collaboration between Richard Hawley’s music and Chris Bush’s storytelling. Both of them are firmly rooted in Sheffield. This is a timely reminder of the resilience required to get through times when the politics get very personal. It’s a tribute and a celebration of the city and its people. Hawley’s songs, old and new, open up the emotions of the characters. They are performed in ways that bring out the lyrics and the mood by a seriously talented cast. We are taken through tears and tenderness, laughter and frustration, into the heart of the stories unfolding for the characters past and present. Their stories have been developed from real life experiences through workshops and interviews. It’s a musical that has a very local setting. You can even see Park Hill from the theatre. There are local jokes and references (Henderson’s Relish, rival football teams, misunderstood local dialect) but it explores universal themes. Richard Hawley says it covers "the arc of social history." Time for a bit of that history, just in case you aren’t familiar with it. In the late 1950s slum clearances gave way to post war modernist housing schemes, and Sheffield’s social housing at Park Hill was one of the most imaginative. Known as ‘the streets in the sky’ because of its broad balconies and access, there was an attempt to recreate the communities that had been rehoused. By the 1980s things were on a downward spiral. Thatcher’s Britain, the deliberate decline of the steel and mining industries, racism, drugs and violence were all having an impact on this city centre housing estate. In the early 21st century the development was listed by English Heritage as a significant piece of Brutalist architecture, and Urban Splash moved in to redevelop the area, a process not yet completed. The Crucible Theatre where this musical is staged is part of the story. Famous for snooker, it’s a theatre in the round. Park Hill made it on to our TV screens too, when it was used as a location in the recent series of 'Dr Who'. The play takes three groups of residents and weaves their stories and experiences together. The first are a young couple from the 1960s, full of hopes and dreams in their brand new home. The second family are refugees from the Liberian Civil War, trying to adjust to life in Sheffield in the 1980s reminding us that Sheffield is identified as a City of Sanctuary. The most recent resident is a young woman, moving up from London to escape a disastrous love affair, attracted by the Urban Splash image and promise of community. The first song, 'As the Dawn Breaks', sets the scene, a new day, a new beginning, the hope and dream of new social housing. There’s high drama and disintegration in 'There’s a Storm A-Comin’. There’s a rock guitar solo in 'Standing at the Sky’s Edge'. The romantic 'For Your Lover Give Some Time' resonates for all the characters and their relationships. 'Open Up Tte Door' is a wonderful song of reconciliation for Nikki and Poppy, the present day couple. The scene where Connie sings 'Don’t Get Hung Up in Your Soul' to her child self will move you to tears. As the story unfolds, the links between the characters and the place where they live become clear. This musical is a love song to Sheffield and the people who live there, making it their home wherever they have come from. I’ve heard it described as a ‘Brutalist musical’. It’s certainly bittersweet and dramatic, but it’s full of life and love, fantastic music and great performances. It’s world class with a local flavour, and it’s bound to make you rethink your attitude to musicals. I hope there’ll be more opportunities to see it, not only in its home city of Sheffield but further afield. The couple sitting next to me had come especially from Berlin. My only regret was that Richard Hawley and Chris Bush didn’t appear to take a bow. I would have loved to thank them in person.

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Richard Hawley - Standing At The Sky’s Edge

Richard Hawley - Standing At The Sky’s Edge

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Nicky Crewe finds Richard Hawley and Chris Bush create a love song to Sheffield with a universal message that will make you reconsider what a stage musical can be.


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