Standing at the Sky’s Edge at the National theatre review

Singer/songwriter Richard Hawley and playwright Chris Bush have fashioned a work that is both site-specific and universally epic. Set on Park Hill housing estate from 1960 to the present, it explores the fate of three sets of people of different backgrounds, offering a view of societal change that applies not just to Sheffield but to the UK and beyond.

A fundamental compassion for its characters, as well as terrific songs, keep it from sinking into localised sentiment.

Rehoused from their slum, newlyweds Rose (Rachael Wooding) and Harry (Robert Lonsdale) start their new life full of optimism.

Next up are a trio of Liberian refugees in the 1980s, followed by Londoner Poppy (Alex Young) in the early 2000s after the estate’s regeneration into luxury flats.

Within this Brutalist ‘castle’, most action takes place in one apartment while the band is on the floor above.

Hawley’s songs are wry, bittersweet and melodic with hints of lounge jazz and Northern country and western.

The title song is a thrilling tribal stomp delivered by the whole cast while big vocal numbers are adroitly handled by Faith Omole, Maimuna Memon and Alex Young.

Director Robert Hastie brings his original 2018 Crucible production onto the Olivier stage with supreme confidence, letting Ben Stones’ towering set take charge of the space while the cast cross over each other as if all occupying the same apartment in different dimensions.

It’s a joyful, gritty show with fire in its heart.

  • Standing at the Sky’s Edge, National Theatre until March 25, Tickets: 020 3989 5455

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