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Standing at the Sky's Edge - Gillian Lynne Theatre REVIEW

Updated: May 1

Fresh from a break following its award-winning run at The National last year, Standing at the Sky’s Edge feels right at home at The Gillian Lynne theatre, which echoes the show’s tower block set with its ‘70s brutalism architecture. 

Starring the Sheffield housing estate, Park Hill, the set towers three stories high, filled with musicians, with a minimalist flat at ground level - forming the home for the three featured families from across three time periods, each telling their own incredible stories.

In the ‘60s we meet two loved-up newlyweds who are about to start their family in their new flat. Next, the ‘80s brings us Joy and her family who have moved into the estate after fleeing civil war. Finally, we jump forward to 2015 and meet Poppy, who is the newest resident in the recently renovated Grade II* listed flats and is trying to find her feet following a messy breakup. 

As their stories unravel before your eyes, sometimes simultaneously in cleverly crafted scenes, you discover the links between the families…and these become increasingly satisfying ‘easter eggs’ within the production. These microcosms of society exist against various figurative backdrops; including Thatcherism and working-class issues, plus the subjects of refugeeism and Brexit. This all creates a dynamic tapestry upon which to paint scenes of heartache and heartbreak, as well as conflict and consequence. The juxtaposition of these stories wields such power, making the turmoil in each tale as heartwrenching as the next.

Whilst the score is stunning (and I’ll be adding it to my playlist immediately!), the numbers were not written specifically for this production, and that shows. They don’t always support the emotional scenes or well-crafted storylines as well as they perhaps could. Richard Hawley’s music does allow performers to inject emotion into their performances though; albeit that doesn’t necessarily help develop the plot or characters.

Chris Bush’s writing is flawless and the performances delivered by every cast member are pure perfection. These two elements work in perfect harmony, which means you fall in love with each of them, their individual story and the moments they create; as each has such depth and heart to them. A special mention must go to Layren Reading, with her incredible vocals and loveable character. Notably though, every member of the over 20-strong cast gives an insight into the community of Park Hill over the years and adds to the tales being spun.

I read a quote somewhere that described this show as “intimate and epic” and I can’t find a more accurate description than those two adjectives. This is powerful theatre at its finest. It will hit you in the face and keep you talking all night, as well as blowing you away effortlessly with down-to-earth stories of everyday people told in such a beautiful way. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

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