THEATRE REVIEW: Standing At The Sky’s Edge at the National Theatre

By Neil Durham

WORTH A LOOK?: *****

WHEN?: 11 February, opens 13 February and runs through 25 March 2023 RUNTIME: 170 minutes (including a 20-minute interval)

It’s not very often at the theatre that we cry so uncontrollably that we worry we might embarass ourselves.

  • Read on for reasons including how this is London’s best new musical

But so it is with Standing At The Sky’s Edge when an early meet-cute is replayed to devastating effect towards the close of what is, we think, London’s best new musical.

English singer/songwriter, guitarist and producer Richard Hawley isn’t perhaps the 1st act who comes to mind when imagining which pop star’s songs would most suit a new musical.

The ex-Longpigs and Pulp star’s 6th solo album, the titular Standing At The Sky’s Edge, was released in 2012 and is the basis for this show which has run in Sheffield, where it is set, and already won Best Musical Production at the UK Theatre Awards and the 2020 South Bank Sky Arts Award for Theatre.

The show is set on Sheffield’s brutalist Park Hill council estate and we meet the occupants of one flat there in 3 different time periods: 1960, 1989 and 2015.

Each period pivots around Conservative election victories for Thatcher, Major and Johnson with the sense that the results brought little benefit to the residents of the steel city.

We meet a steelworker facing redundancy and the devastation that will have on his family, 3 Liberian refugees and a woman fleeing an unfaithful ex.

It’s a couple of days after the death of the legendary composer Burt Bacharach and there’s a timeless 50s and 60s quality to Hawley’s work which works particularly well during For Your Lover Give Some Time as the complexities of 2 of the relationships here are explored.

The cast includes the extremely talented Maimuna Memon (Jesus Christ Superstar: The Concert, Regent’s Park Theatre) and her Amy Winehouse-esque rendition of 1 of the show’s very many highlights, Open Up Your Door, is so good we get actual chills.

Baker Mukasa’s Tonight The Streets Are Ours is sung with a beaming smile and brilliantly conveys the excitement of life in a new city.

There’s A Storm A-Comin’ is 1 of Hawley’s most memorable songs and its sense of impending doom makes for a dramatic close to the 1st half.

But it is the relationship between Faith Omole’s refugee Joy and Samuel Jordan’s Jimmy (main picture above) that has us most invested in this piece.

Elsewhere we laughed a lot with Alex Young’s Poppy whose departure from London has her marvelling at the joy of Henderson’s Relish while ensemble member Darragh Cowley shines and Ahmed Hamad (Rent, Hope Mill Theatre) is memorable in a string of roles.

Chris Bush’s book is beautifully written with a real ear for dialect (‘Leeds are dickheads’) and a construction that resolves itself beautifully while the complication of sometimes having 3 different storylines intertwining in the same flat being realised without unnecessary complication.

There’s strength in depth with ‘youngest foreman’ Harry given life by Robert Lonsdale and Bobbie Little’s Connie providing some real sass. Rachael Wooding’s Rose gives us the beautifully moving After The Rain.

Standing At The Sky’s Edge has a real sense of place but also offers much thought about the nature of home and how ‘it’s not a place, it’s the people you find and take with you’ and ‘until you let someone else in, it’s just a box to keep out the rain’.

We weren’t especially Richard Hawley fans before seeing this show but the quality of the music is so high and the beauty of a story where kindness is king makes for an incredibly moving and uplifting watch.

  • Main picture via Facebook courtesy National Theatre Tickets
  • Have you seen a Richard Hawley show before and what did you think of this 1?Let us know what you thought in the comments below
  • Enjoyed this review? Follow monstagigz on Twitter @NeilDurham, email and check us out on Instagram and Facebook

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