REVIEW: Standing At The Sky’s Edge, Gillian Lynne Theatre ✭✭✭✭✭

Paul T Davies reviews the West End transfer of Standing At The Sky’s Edge at the Gillian Lynne Theatre.

Robert Hastie
The company. Photo: Brinkhoff Moegenburg

Standing At the Sky’s Edge (West End)
Gillian Lynne Theatre.
29 February 2024
5 Stars

Transferring in from the National Theatre, Richard Hawley and Chris Bush’s magnificent musical has kept its powerful, exemplary story telling intact. The Park Hill Estate, Sheffield. One flat, three time zones. In 1960, on a wave of optimism, Harry and Rose move into the streets in the sky, full of hope, and, as Harry later says, gratitude to be out of the slums. In 1989, refugees Joy and her uncle and aunt move in, warned to always keep their door locked because of the “bad men”, the estate has become the slums everyone wanted to leave. But it’s a grade 2 listed building, and cannot be pulled down, so is gentrified, and 2015 Poppy moves in, with Ocado deliveries and Yorkshire tea bag-flavoured gin, running away but never shaking off her heartbreak after a relationship break-up. Charting the history of Britain, the destruction of industry by Thatcher and her policies, despair and survival, the show is heartbreaking and heart soaring in equal measure, towering over other West End musicals, pardon the pun.

Standing At The Sky's Edge
Lauryn Redding (Nikki), Laura Pitt Pulford (Penny) and cast. Photo: Brainkhoff Moegenburg

Seeing it again, what strikes me more than ever is the call for community, for a sense of belonging and a strength of togetherness, values under threat in our current society. The weaving of songs and lyrics and the book are seamless, as beautiful, and strong as Sheffield steel. The cast are perfect, and excellent Harry, Joel Harper-Jackson, and outstanding Rachel Wooding as Rose feel like the beating heart of the piece, their moving in and legacy affecting the generations that follow. Their son, Jimmy, gets together with Joy, and their daughter, Connie, (excellent narration work by Mel Lowe), is the estate agent who sells Poppy the flat, or “split level duplex. When Wooding sings After the Rains Have Gone, the audience hold their breath, collectively grieving not just for her, but the loss of community and hope. As Joy, Elizabeth Ayodele finds many examples of her namesake in her love for Jimmy, played with a blinding sense of loyalty by Samuel Jordan. And there is much needed comic relief between Poppy, excellent Laura Pitt-Pulford, and the magnificent Lauren Redding as Nikki, stopping the show with her opening number, Open Up Your Door, as she tracks down Poppy to beg for forgiveness and a fresh start.

Standing At The Sky's Edge
The company. Photo: Brinkhoff Moegenburg

The staging is a little more restricted than it was on the vast Olivier theatre, but the closeness of the action makes us part of the community. Robert Hastie’s direction is fluid and superb, although I noticed how little the characters are alone on stage, there is usually chorus members in motion, therefore moments of loneliness are more powerful even if the chorus can be a tad distracting. The structure is built on strong foundations, the act one closer There’s A’Storm A’Comimg pounds into your senses as the estate slides into despair, but the framing song, As The Dawn Breaks, restores hope, with the graffiti, I Love You, Will You Marry Me, flickering over the estate. For an audience to gasp, cry and sigh with pleasure in unison is still a unique feeling, and, although the architecture is Brutal, the musical is a tender bruise, sweet and melancholic. Magnificent.


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