Review: ★★★★★ Standing At The Sky’s Edge, National Theatre

Park Hill estate: synonymous with Sheffield. Built in the late 50s/early 60s, yet still standing today and now a grade II listed building. Standing At The Sky’s Edge chronicles the life and times of the building, its inhabitants and societal change in Britain for the past half a century and all beautifully done through the music of Pulp guitarist and solo artist Richard Hawley and book by Chris Bush. Launched at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre back in 2019, the revival debuted back at its first home at the end of last year before transferring to the National’s Olivier theatre for a limited run from the 9th of February.

Upon entering, you’re instantly taken aback by Ben Stones’ set design, incorporating the band into the brooding heights of the estate, and using pillars and levels to keep the floor dynamic – with the nod to the infamous ‘I love you will u marry me’ graffiti to boot. And throughout the show, the 19 strong ensemble inhabit all areas of the Stone’s set, which is kudos to the brilliant direction by Robert Hastie and Lynne Page’s  choreography.

The story revolves predominantly around 3 different inhabitants to the flats: Rose and Harry (1960s-1980s), the latter a steel worker, initially seeing Park Hill as the promise of a better life until the effects of Thatcherite Britain take hold; Joy, her aunt and her cousin over from Liberia in the late 80s, and then later Joy and her childhood sweetheart Jimmy building a future life together; and finally from 2015 to present with middle class Southerner Poppy, amidst the gentrification of Park Hill. The staging of the intertwining stories is handled beautifully by Hastie, embodying the feeling of if the walls could talk – and the ensemble aiding in their unification.

Many of the cast have been in the show since its 2019 run, and the passion and pride that they evidently have for the show seeps through. The now Olivier award nominated Faith Omole is one such member of the cast. The Best Actress in a Musical category is fierce this year, but Omole is so deserving of awards glory. The subtle accent developments over time from Liberian to Broad Yorkshire alone is worth praise – Michaela Kennen as the production’s dialect coach too. Omole’s character, Joy, goes through the motions of the immigrant experience, first love, the realities of adulthood and grief all within the shows 2hr50 run time, and the nuances of Omole’s performance as we move with Joy through her life stages are incredible.

Alex Young is another cast member who has been with the show from the beginning. Although her character, Poppy, is the key driver for Bush’s commentary on the gentrification of Park Hill and Sheffield from it’s working class roots, credit is long overdue for the handling by Young and Maimuna Memon (Nikki) of a queer female romance – something of which is rarely seen on the West End stage. And in their own right, both Young and Memon get to take their moments to shine.  Memon’s rendition of Hawley’s classic Open Up Your Door is stunning, with a jazzy Winehouse-like tone to her voice – indicative of her own Olivier Award nomination for Supporting Actress in a Musical. And Young’s character exploration of a career driven, queer woman who is still trying to find her own way  in her 30s is again something not seen often on stage and done with beautiful subtlety.

It’s no wonder that many are hailing this as the best new British musical out there now, with a much deserved instant standing ovation at curtain call and most nominated musical at the Oliviers. Hopefully this is not the last we see of this striking show, but get your hands on tickets now before the run ends on the 25th of March, or you’ll regret it!

Niamh Flynn

Niamh Flynn
Niamh Flynn

Niamh Flynn has been involved in youth theatres and school productions from a young age, and studied Literature & Drama at university. Niamh has always had a keen interest in theatre both in an on stage and off stage capacity. Working for an advertising agency; she loves that Upper Circle allows her to keep in touch with her creative side outside of work, whilst providing her the opportunity to see lots of different styles of theatre.


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