Standing at the Sky’s Edge – Review – Sheffield Crucible
By Helen Johnston, April 2019
When the first families moved into Sheffield’s Park Hill flats 60 years ago, they could hardly have guessed at the notoriety their new homes would achieve. Those streets in the sky which represented a bright new dawn for people who had been living in slum conditions have become not only a dominant landmark, but also a means of charting the social history of the city.
This concrete behemoth has been hailed as a national architectural treasure in the form of listed building status, and now it takes centre stage at the Crucible theatre which lies in its shadow.
Standing at the Sky’s Edge is quite simply a masterpiece. The stories of three distinct families living in the same flat in different decades are interwoven in a truly innovative production, bound together by the songs of Sheffield’s own Richard Hawley.
The protagonists from each era are often on stage at the same time and choreographer Lynne Page has done an inspired job of moving them around each other, creating the illusion that while these people never see or touch each other, their stories are nevertheless woven together by the home they occupied.
Harry and Rose are the young couple who arrive in 1960, delighted with their new home and amazing view. Harry is the youngest foreman at his steelworks and a bright future beckons. But 20 years later the Thatcher years begin, bringing with them industrial turmoil and unemployment and Park Hill beings its decline into crime and vandalism.
Enter Liberian immigrants George and Joy and their auntie Grace in 1989, desperate for a new life after fleeing civil war but greeted with racism and a warning that they should always keep their door locked.
Finally it’s 2016 and we see the transformation that has taken place. Renovation of some of the flats has brought in a different kind of private tenant in the shape of Poppy, a middle class Ocado-shopping lesbian who has moved from London to heal her broken heart. She appears to be worlds apart from Harry and Rose, and yet through clever storytelling we see connections building. Writer Chris Bush uses both laughter and tears to show that, despite surface differences, universal human emotions bind us together.
Dialect coach Mary Howland has done a superb job in capturing the Sheffield accent and local references were appreciated by the audience. Hawley fans will also be delighted to know that the singers and musical accompaniment did full justice to his work, leading to rapturous applause and a standing ovation.
Go and see it. And next time you look up at Park Hill flats, marvel at what their people have inspired.
images: Johan Persson