Standing at the Sky’s Edge Reviews ★★★★

Reviews are coming in for Standing at the Sky’s Edge, which has opened at the National Theatre in London.

This award-winning new British musical makes its London premiere at the National Theatre, directed by Robert Hastie – Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres, where this musical first started.

Winner of Best Musical Production at the UK Theatre Awards and 2020 South Bank Sky Arts Award for Theatre, the show is written by Chris Bush, with songs by legendary Sheffield singer-songwriter Richard Hawley.

The show follows three storylines across three generations: Poppy wants to escape her old life in London; Joy and Jimmy want to spend the rest of their lives together; and Rose and Harry want the new life they’ve been promised.

The cast of Standing at the Sky’s Edge includes Ahmed Hamad, Sèverine Howell-Meri, Samuel Jordan, Bobbie Little, Robert Lonsdale, David McKechnie, Maimuna Memon, Rachael Louise Miller, Baker Mukasa, Alastair Natkiel, Faith Omole, Adam Price, Consuela Rolle, Nicola Sloane, Jake Small, Deborah Tracey, Rachael Wooding and Alex Young.

The creative team includes set and costume design by Ben Stones, choreography by Lynne Page, music supervision, orchestrations and arrangements by Tom Deering, lighting by Mark Henderson, sound by Bobby Aitken, wigs, hair and make-up design by Cynthia De La Rosa and casting by Stuart Burt CDG. Music director is John Rutledge, fight director is Kenan Ali, associate choreographer is Thomas Herron, assistant music director is Ehsaan Shivarani, dialects coaches are: Michaela Kennen and Shereen Ibrahim, and casting of young performers by Chloe Blake.

The reviews are from the Evening Standard, The Stage and more.

More reviews to follow.

Standing at the Sky’s Edge plays at the National Theatre until 25 March 2023.

More about Standing at the Sky’s Edge tickets at the National Theatre

Average Critics Rating

Standing at the Sky's Edge reviews

The Evening Standard

"A stirring musical reinforced with Sheffield steel"

"Defiantly wedded to Sheffield, this uplifting musical has a universal message about community and gentrification"

"Who’d have guessed a musical about Sheffield’s brutalist Park Hill housing estate could be so uplifting? Playwright Chris Bush has worked the stirring earworms of her fellow native, the much-feted singer-songwriter Richard Hawley, into a beguiling triple narrative covering the development’s utopian postwar conception, its demise in the Eighties and its 21st century yuppie rebirth."

"Even though Sheffield runs like arterial blood through Hawley’s output not all the songs deployed here suit their theatrical repurposing. Both individual and interconnected elements of the three storylines are a bit too neat. But this remains a huge achievement by Hastie and Bush, one of our most prolific and arresting writers: a bold step forward for musical theatre, that brings northern, working-class steel to the South Bank."

"This is a democratic, demotic work where the cast and Ben Stones’ set – complete with Park Hill’s famous neon sign replicating the original graffiti scrawl “I love you will U marry me” – seem to be in direct conversation with the audience and the auditorium. Smashing."

Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard
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The Stage

"Seizes your heart and squeezes it tight"

"Thrilling Sheffield-set musical charts six decades of social change and salutes the extraordinary in everyday lives"

"... the piece is a salute to resilience and community. It’s jubilant and defiant, with the emotional force of a juggernaut. Written by playwright Chris Bush, with songs by musician and sometime Pulp band member Richard Hawley, it elevates the extraordinary in ordinary lives, while charting 60 years of social change. It’s as ugly-beautiful as Park Hill itself, and in a production by Robert Hastie that is both tough and tender, it seizes your heart and squeezes it tight."

"Their intersecting narratives are superimposed on to each other, characters crossing paths in the kitchen or sitting side by side at the dinner table. Bush’s dialogue may have an occasional hint of contrivance, but there’s a thrilling scope and elan to the way in which the writing embraces the personal and political and the sweep of recent history, taking in reality at the sharp end of government policies, strikes, gentrification and class inequality – all of which has obvious enduring pertinence. And the show’s texture is fantastically rich. Hawley’s music is sweet and rough, woozy and boozy, wistful and enraged, while Lynne Page’s choreography crams the stage with vitality."

Sam Marlowe, The Stage
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i News

"Richard Hawley’s perfect love letter to Sheffield"

"This stylish production set on the iconic Park Hill estate is a terrific blend of power and heart"

"... a bittersweet musical love letter to the city that reaches far beyond South Yorkshire to encompass a haunting meditation on the universal idea of home."

"There are unmistakable echoes of Girl from the North Country in the construction formula: take the back catalogue of a well-known songwriter, in this case Sheffield native Richard Hawley, and embed it in a high-class script – all credit to book writer Chris Bush – that drips with a sure sense of time and place."

"Hastie has assembled an outstanding ensemble of actors who give such compelling performances that copious sniffles, my own included, could be heard at the end."

Fiona Mountford, i News
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The Guardian

"Richard Hawley pulls on the heartstrings in his Sheffield opus"

"This new musical traces the intersecting lives of three families on the Park Hill estate in this spine-tingling and sentimental love song to the steel city"

"Directed by Robert Hastie, it looks at first like it is relishing a little too much in its theatricality as the three sets of characters swirl around the set together, in their own parallel worlds. There is little story in-between songs initially and Chris Bush’s book comes with stock characters."

"But it blooms into a glorious love letter indeed, revealing a big, booming heart and astonishing sound. Hawley’s music and lyrics stand front and centre of the production..."

"The cast is uniformly strong and their singing outstanding."

"It has an upbeat spirit to the last but does not take the full turn into the happy ending we are expecting, while the sentimentality is leavened by Bush’s witty book."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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The Telegraph

"Shining a spotlight on Sheffield's brutalist Park Hill estate"

"This musical, now playing at the National, has an intriguing concept but the content is flimsy"

"Their lives, in Chris Bush's deftly structured script, are layered together like onion skins, each always visible beneath the others. Thematically, too, their stories reverberate off each other, buffeted by upheaval, loss and politics: the collapse of the steel industry; gentrification."

"Yet this often lovely piece of theatre also falls short of its own ambition. The songs seem to float free of the action, there not to further the story but to provide a generalised sonic mood board. Bush's script, though marinated in the history of Sheffield, is compromised by its desire to simultaneously serve as a potted history of modern Britain."

"Ultimately, Robert Hastie's superbly acted production is most effective as a series of beautifully choreographed tableaux. It's gorgeous to look at and moving to witness, but like that neon sign, the concept trumps the content."

Claire Allfree, The Telegraph
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"At its best Richard Hawley and Chris Bush’s musical love letter to Sheffield is a thing of elemental power"

"Robert Hastie’s production – which received ecstatic reviews in Sheffield, twice – feels both bracingly different and agreeably familiar. I’m not usually the biggest fan of Hawley’s nostalgic retro-pop, and at times his soft-focussed ‘50s-style ballads feel like an odd for a trio of stories entirely set after the era the music harks back to. But the heavier songs off the titular album are a better fit: the awesome Zeppelin swagger of the title track is like nothing I’ve heard in a musical before, and it intersects with the action perfectly, capturing the stormy crisis points being faced by the characters at that point."

"Bush has a great knack for mixing rabble-rousing populism with more astringent social commentary..."

"I have to say that I didn’t actively love it: Bush is good on themes but there are points here where her character writing tends towards the soapy and melodramatic. While you could reasonably argue that that’s what you want from a musical, I found some of the plot twists a bit crass."

Andrzej Lukowski, TimeOut
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The Financial Times

"Five stars for Standing at the Sky’s Edge, an exhilarating, big-hearted musical"

"... Chris Bush’s Standing at the Sky’s Edge announces itself and the mixture of sweet and tart, tender and tough, that will drive this exhilarating, big-hearted musical"

"The structure has drawbacks — the stories are inevitably clipped and simplified — and sometimes Bush states political points that are already clear from the narrative. But her script is sparkily witty and affectionate, she interweaves the stories with great skill so that we see patterns repeat and consequences unfold, and she and the cast bring the characters to vibrant life."

"Robert Hastie’s superb production, on Ben Stones’s soaring set, orchestrates all this beautifully, overlapping the stories to revealing or playful effect. His staging is peppered with standout performances, particularly from Omole, Young and Wooding... A wonderfully generous, uplifting piece of theatre."

Sarah Hemming, The Financial Times
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The New York Times

"Ben Stones’s imposing concrete set includes the signature graffito, “I love you, will u marry me,” that was painted on a concrete bridge of the housing project in 2001 and became an unlikely Sheffield icon."

"Love in its various forms turns out to be the topic connecting the show’s three plot strands, each set in different eras."

"Hawley’s full-bodied score, meanwhile, folds this singer-songwriter’s back catalog together with new songs, yearning and hopeful, that catch at the heart. The title song, taken from a 2012 album, is a rousing company number that gets the second act off to a propulsive start, and whose elation is characteristic of the show as a whole."

Matt Wolf, The New York Times
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Daily Mail

"Six decades on a Sheffield estate... and you'll love it"

"Soaring love song to Sheffield"

"This mighty, moving play with music should be engraved 'made in Sheffield' like my best knives."

"Weaving the lives, loves and losses of three sets of residents over six decades, it sounds local and domestic... But the show's stretch and scope is epic, sweeping wider and higher than Ben Stone's evocative concrete design to chart the history of post-war regeneration, de-industrialisation, immigration and, finally, privatisation and gentrification common to so many British inner cities."

"The title tune — loud enough to make your kidneys vibrate — raises the roof, but not as high as Faith Omole's yearning rendition of Coles Corner. Fabulous numbers, fabulous production."

Georgina Brown, Daily Mail
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The Observer

"Richard Hawley’s paean to Sheffield finds a home from home"

"... the lives of these imagined residents – a steelworker and his wife from 1961, Liberian refugees in the 80s, a yuppie Londoner and her on-off girlfriend from more or less now – tell an instantly recognisable story of England’s industrial decline, property speculation, changing population, political dereliction."

"Some weaknesses are exposed. Hawley’s marvellous songs are more planted than propelling. Lynne Page’s choreography is, well, pedestrian, with characters walking along with outstretched arms as if they were playing aeroplanes. Yet soaring voices – particularly Maimuna Memon’s and Alex Young’s – still stir. As does the project of a show that combines political hope and excoriation with the patient rendering of individual lives. It is a good week when the National earns its name."

Susannah Clapp, The Observer
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Daily Express

"A joyful, gritty show with fire in its heart"

"A musical set on a Sheffield housing estate may not be the easiest pitch to Broadway producers - but they'd be missing out on the best British musical in decades."

"Singer/songwriter Richard Hawley and playwright Chris Bush have fashioned a work that is both site-specific and universally epic."

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

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

Neil Norman, Daily Express
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📷 Main photo: Standing at the Sky's Edge. Photo by Johan Persson

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