Standing At The Sky's Edge

Standing At The Sky’s Edge is a brand new musical by Chris Bush and is currently showing at the Gillian Lynne Theatre in London’s West End. Owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber, this modern theatre fits close to 1300 audience members and has previously been the home to shows such as Bad Cinderella, The Lehman Trilogy and most recently, Crazy for You.

Starting in the very town it all began, this stunning piece of new writing debuted at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield in 2019. Since then the show’s success has grown triumphantly, winning an Olivier Award for Best New Musical and finally transferring to West End after it’s brief run at the National Theatre.

Directed by Robert Hastie, Standing At The Sky’s Edge is a well curated show and certainly unlike any musical I’ve seen before. It mixes the intimacy of a live-lounge style concert, the retro sounds of vintage radio, the humour of a soap opera on TV (minus the hammy acting) with the contagious energy of a musical. It manages to blend all of those qualities together with funky, time-appropriate costumes and outbursts of contemporary dance for added fun!

Set in Park Hill, Sheffield’s most famous housing estate, it centres around one apartment in particular which is next to a hill with a view of ‘The Sky’s Edge’. The overlapping scenes concentrated on the lives of three couples, each moving into the flat in their own decade yet all are linked in some way. We have modern-day working woman Poppy, (Laura Pitt-Pulford) a charismatic lady trying to build a new life after an exhausting break up with ex Nikki. 
From the 80s we meet Joy (Elizabeth Ayodele) who has just moved in with her Aunt Grace (Sharlene Hector) and Uncle George (Baker Mukasa) to seek refuge in England and manages to find love in charming local northerner Jimmy (Samuel Jordan).
Simultaneously, we also follow the happiness and hardships of devoted 60s wife Rose (Rachael Wooding) to husband and steelworker Harry (Joel Harper-Jackson) suffering through a rapid reduction of work triggering subsequent mental health problems.

Including the ensemble, the show uses a whopping 32 actors, creating the hustle and bustle of the 5th largest city in the UK. With such a large cast it has the potential to be overwhelming however the visual stimulation was managed and executed perfectly with a few focus points clearly highlighted within the chaos. 

I found the acting to be endearing and of a consistently high standard. The engaging characters navigated their way through engrossing storylines, hooking us with a variety of relatable life situations. It was particularly intriguing how the various, seemingly separate storylines were linked and woven together in the end. The clear message of the importance of human connection and feeling ‘seen’ by others resounded throughout.

The set consisted of a tall block of flats. In a rundown area, whereby we focus in on one flat in particular. The large stage was filled with a monochrome interior of the apartment, including a basic front room with a sofa and a kitchen area with a double fridge and dining table.

The lighting included an interesting array of colours and spotlights artfully followed the cast to capture each important moment. I imagine that keeping a cast of over 30 actors illuminated at the same time while focusing in on the integral parts isn’t easy so credit to the creatives for making it seem effortless.

The soundtrack to the show presented a collection of genres including soul, funk, retro rock n roll and folk, all of which were sang effortlessly by the talented cast. Untraditionally, the songs were not always sung by the cast members in the scene, however some were performed as almost accompanying background music or radio music setting the scene.

A favourite among the audience was the song ‘Open Up Your Door’ sang in the show by free spirited Nikki, ex-girlfriend of Poppy. Her clean, cutting vocals reverberated into the auditorium, evoking an inspired reaction and giving us a delicious introduction to the role. It became apparent that this musical was not about soaring notes and impressive riffs, however refreshingly, focused solely on the message and storytelling of the piece.

Despite being a jukebox musical, the beautifully crafted soundtrack succeeding in providing an outlet of deep, raw emotion. Occasionally the lyrics didn’t entirely fit the character’s situation however overall the songs matched the fictionalisations and complimented them wonderfully. It’s worth having a special mention to the sound engineers of this production (Merlin O’Brien and team) as every word said, chord played and note sang was crystal clear.

The hit and miss choreography did detract somewhat from the piece and at times appeared quite simple and repetitive. In other places, specifically when used to emphasise the connections between the inhabitants, the naturalistic movements were positively welcomed.  

In terms of improvements, perhaps some choreography adjustments wouldn’t go amiss to rid the show of superfluous movements. Also, with a total running time of 2 hours and 50 minutes (including an interval) this lengthy production could arguably benefit with a small cut.  

It is also worth mentioning that the programme is definitely worth buying if the history of Park Hill is of interest to you. Not only does it go into detail about the apartment block that’s famous for the noticeable neon sign ‘I Love You Will You Marry Me?’ but it also mentions an array of talented artists and notable names to come out of Sheffield. If you’re a northerner (or have a soft spot for the North) this feel-good show is certain to increase that adoration tenfold.

Standing at the Sky’s Edge provides a tidal wave of sentiments for any audience to sit back and enjoy. There’s comedy to make you chuckle, great songs to lift your mood and those poignant moments to tug at your heart strings. Does this new musical have it all? We think so!

This show was reviewed on the 29th February 2024 at the Gillian Lynne Theatre..  Tickets available here: Standing At The Sky's Edge | Gillian Lynne Theatre | 8 Feb 2024 (skysedgemusical.com)

Review written by Lauren Atkinson

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Photo credit: Brinkhoff Moegenburg

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