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Standing at the Sky's Edge - musical review


One Sheffield landmark, three generations of stories to be told: Standing at the Sky's Edge entwines histories to create a landscape of reflection about a space that has seen a multitude of changes, as well as a view for miles. A masterpiece in theatrics, it's a rare triumph in every aspect, becoming a production of beauty that should need no extra encouragement to convince you to see.

Beneath the illuminated scrawls of 'I LOVE YOU WILL U MARRY ME' once vandalism, now treasured, the 1960s saw the beginning of the Park Hill flats and their occupants. Introducing audiences to various lives - one this start, another in 1989, and the last in 2017 - the script starts to unfold a tapestry of discourse, touching on a vast range of components that piece together to make the conflicted and bittersweet narratives. Over the course of the timeline, with many different characters in the main focus, you would think it complicated to follow but even using the dates that flick onwards to show time passing, the perfectly coordinated costumes by Ben Stones unmistakenly identify each era.

First in the brutalist accommodation, Rose (Rachael Wooding) and Harry (Joel Harper-Jackson) are brimming with admiration for one another as they're excited to be settling down there. The establishment appears a hive of opportunity, only to be contrasted by the terror and threatening atmosphere when Joy (Elizabeth Ayodele) and her family move in while being torn away from her parents in their conflicted home country. Notorious for being a hotspot for crime and violence, locked doors attempt to keep things at bay, but a friendly face, Jimmy (Samuel Jordan) means not all things are bad. Then, after undergoing recent refurbishments, Poppy (Laura Pitt-Pulford), heartbroken from ex-girlfriend Nikki (Lauryn Redding), becomes the most recent buyer, highlighting the fact that those once there have suffered, only for prices to now rocket and the grade II listed building to become an elitist aspiration.

Eye-opening in nature, the entire show keeps you engaged in a meaningful way, without seeming consistently too heavy. Structurally impressive, the staging uses the same set throughout, leaving the cast to skillfully bring it to life. Cleverly allowing for multiple timelines to cross and be presented simultaneously, they are each integrated effortlessly despite the complexities. Being phenomenally constructed alone requires a large dose of commendation, but the analysis of carefully crafted movement, characters and scripting, with Richard Hawley's stunning music, Chris Bush's writing and Robert Hastie's direction, allows Standing at the Sky's Edge to be the epitome of British musicals. Littered with twists and turns; successes and sorrows, yet mirroring real-life scenarios, the audience develops a connection in abundance to the characters, and investment with conviction in their stories.

Utilising every inch of the stage when performing the group choreography by Lynne Page (including both layers and areas of the auditorium), all of the large fluidly navigate each other mesmerisingly to create a visual spectacle. Additionally, the accompanying score provides fitting songs to fit each moment - not distracting from the depth of the messaging, but enhancing it. Although individually powerful pieces for varying reasons, collectively the soundtrack fabricates a display of heartfelt, hurt and hopeful emotion. The tones are beautifully executed, with vocal prowess from everyone: whether it be seamlessly blending together or standing stark in solos. Opening with 'As The Dawn Breaks' to set the scene, audiences are immediately engrossed before hearing the more upbeat 'Tonight The Streets Are Ours' a little later. Nikki's unaccompanied song 'Open Up Your Door' combines gentleness with passion; 'There's A Storm A-Comin'' evokes drama. Starting the second act, the titular track draws you back in and keeps you craving more.

Giving recognition to the social shifts, and a voice for many of the important issues raised, such a range is covered, yet not unmanageably so. Exploring family and gender roles, community, race, conflict, class, love and loss just to name a few, such a rich understanding of the characters and what those in real similar positions may be experiencing can come from the production.

Leaving you in awe, knowing you've just witnessed something incredible, there's no doubt already planning a return visit will be on the cards, to note any of those carefully rooted nuances you missed. Standing at the Sky's Edge deserves longevity ahead, and many an audience to watch undoubtedly one of the best musicals out there.


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