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Standing at the Sky's Edge | Gillian Lynne

Standing at the Sky’s Edge, a new musical written by Chris Bush and directed by Robert Hastie, has already been on quite the journey. Initially having its world premiere at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield back in March 2019, which was revived three years later in December 2022, the musical then moved to the National Theatre in February 2023. After receiving awards at the Olivier’s in 2023 for best new musical and best original score or new orchestrations, its return at the Gillian Lynne theatre has been highly anticipated.


Chris Bush has written a book that puts humanity, community and belonging at the forefront as we follow the escapism, hopes and dreams of three families living in Sheffield’s infamous Park Hill housing estate. Bush has cleverly interwoven three different stories here – in the 1960’s, we have a family who is initially full of life and excited for their future, and slowly their happiness is stripped away due to the industrial decline. In the 1980’s, we meet a family of refugees who have fled from their country and seek solace in an uncertain new city, and in 2015, we meet Poppy who has moved away from the city in an attempt to get over a traumatic experience. Whilst this provides an interesting premise for a story to unfold, not all characters in Bush’s writing feel fully fleshed out and there are gaps in character development.


Director Robert Hastie and choreographer Lynne Page have made the movement of the piece feel effortless, with the three families seamlessly interweaving around each other in the same flat (in different decades) without interacting with each other, and therefore three stories take place simultaneously. The ensemble are vital in the storytelling throughout, almost appearing ghost-like in scenes to show the changes in community over the passing of time at Park Hill estate, helping the audience to distinguish the different time periods.



Joel-Harper Jackson gives a standout performance as Harry, as we watch his optimism and joy-de-vivre fade when his pride is stripped away, and Samuel Jordan and Elizabeth Ayodele both give incredible performances as the slightly awkward and unsure teenagers about to embark on an adventure together. Their storyline has potential to be the strongest of the three, with acceptance and diversity being at the helm. However, this storyline and both characters felt under-developed and under-explored, leaving a gap for emotional connection to their story.


Ben Stones’ set design of the mammoth Park Hill estate fills the vast stage of the Gillian Lynne. Whilst the intimidating high rise of flats stays stagnant for the duration of the run time, it never feels tiresome with the cast using multi-dimensional aspects of the staging, from the walkways above where the band reside, to the stairs that lead under the stage. With the additional aid of the striking lighting design from Mark Henderson, with harsh and brutal spotlights in contrast with the warm colours that reflected on the skyscrapers.

 

Richard Hawley’s catalogue of music and musical orchestration and direction by Tom Deering and Alex Beetschen provide the angst and emotion to urge the story along, and what sets this musical apart is how the songs slot into the story. Whilst your average musical theatre character tends to burst into song at any given moment, many of the songs here are performed by the cast almost like musical interludes during a scene change. A shoutout here must be given to Lauryn Redding with the most soulful vocals and emotionally charged performance with 'Open Your Door'. The band are incredibly powerful and contribute extremely well to the gripping end of act one and opening of act two, however sometimes the band were so loud that the vocals and lyrics could not be understood.


It’s clear that Standing at the Sky’s Edge will touch the hearts of many. A musical that has humanity and connection in the forefront allows audiences to relate and emotionally connect with the piece. With a score of Hawley's songs and an impressive set design, Standing at the Sky's Edge has all the right ingredients for a successful new British musical. Standing at the Sky's Edge is currently running at the Gillian Lynne until August 2024. For tickets and more information, you can follow the link here.


⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

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