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Sky’s the Limit: Standing at the Sky’s Edge writer Chris Bush on returning Park Hill musical

It’s back. Following a celebrated opening in March 2019, the award-winning Standing at the Sky’s Edge makes a highly anticipated return to the Crucible stage this Christmas ahead of its transfer to Olivier Theatres in 2023.  

Set to the music of local icon Richard Hawley, this Sheffield tale follows the fortunes of several Park Hill residents from different eras while exploring the building’s social and cultural impact across 50-plus years.

Exposed caught up with the show’s writer, Chris Bush, to discuss the impact of its initial run, why this is an important story to tell and the prospect of taking Park Hill on tour.

Standing at the Sky's Edge

Image: Johan Persson

Tell me a bit about the genesis of Sky’s Edge. Where did it all come from?
It began with our producer, Rupert Lord, who tracked Richard [Hawley] down to a hotel room while he was touring in Europe and banged on his door. Or at least that’s how Richard tells it. I think Richard was initially apprehensive about getting involved in musical theatre, but he was eventually persuaded and, if you fast forward to when I came onboard a few years later, it was decided it’d be Richard’s music and the story of Park Hill.

What is it for you that makes Park Hill such fertile ground for storytelling?
I’ve told a lot of Sheffield stories over the years. I think with Park Hill you can find the universal in the specific: it could be one story based in one flat, but it’s also telling the story of post-war Britain. There’s something quite interesting about the evolution of Park Hill from this socialist utopian estate which lifted people out of slums through to its degradation as industry declined in Sheffield and across the north, then later becoming a desirable, slightly boujee place to live following its redevelopment.

“I think with Park Hill you can find the universal in the specific.” Image: Johan Persson

As a building so intertwined in Sheffield culture and history, are there any worries about it not connecting with audiences in London?
I suppose there is always a voice in your head asking that question. It kind of goes back to the earlier point of finding the universal in the specific, and in these very detailed stories regarding specific points in time there will be something that speaks to everyone.

On that note, could you provide us with a brief overview of the stories we’re introduced to in the play?
We begin with Harry and Rose, a Sheffield couple who are among the first arrivals in the 60s. They’re young and idealistic and represent a hopeful future for themselves and Park Hill as a whole. We’re also introduced to Joy and her cousins in the 80s, who are a Liberian family fleeing civil war, arriving when Park Hill is at its lowest ebb; it’s a home they didn’t want or expect but it offers refuge and a new start of sorts. The final story follows Poppy, who is a queer southern woman that sort of represents the friendly face of gentrification, someone looking for a bit of friendly northern hospitality. What feels exciting is how the stories aren’t told chronologically, we continually move through the three timelines and they’re layered up on top of each other.

The story of Harry and Rose is one of the main intersecting story threads. Image: Johan Persson

Bringing it all together, of course, are these iconic Richard Hawley songs. Why do they fit so perfectly?
I mean, he’s a genius… not that I’d say that to his face. Of course, we’re not short of iconic musical artists in Sheffield, but I think what’s so special about Richard’s music is there’s an emotional truth to his writing that translates really beautifully to the stage. His writing creates full, rich characters; it can be achingly romantic if it wants to be; there’s plenty of beautiful lyricism present in his songs. He knows the story, the people in the story, and it feels like this show exists within his bones.

Have you changed much to the script since it last ran?
There’s been a lot of small surgical tweaks, a bit of fine-tuning, but nothing really major. We’ve brought the final timeline forward slightly, to early 2020, but not fully to the present because I didn’t want it to become a pandemic piece. That would have been restrictive and, let’s be honest, nobody wants to see a pandemic play right now!

Standing at the Sky's Edge

Image: Johan Persson

After the opening night at Crucible in 2019, I recall walking out into the foyer and seeing a large number of Sheffielders genuinely moved to tears. Why do you think this play resonated so strongly?
If we’ve done our job right, which I hope we have, I think it’s about seeing yourself and people you know on stage. This show exists in our audience’s blood. It is them; it is their parents; it is their grandparents and their wider family and friends. We’ve all seen the bad ‘flat cap and whippet’ versions of what other people think a northern story looks like, but we got the right team together to tell something that felt very authentic and spoke from a place of emotional truth. We see it as a gift to the city and we want the audience to feel like they are seen and have true ownership of the material.

Standing at the Sky’s Edge runs from 10th  Dec – 21st Jan. Tickets are available at sheffieldtheatres.co.uk.




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