The cast of 'Standing at the Sky's Edge' on taking the musical to the West End

At the centre of Chris Bush's musical are three stories spanning 60 years. Rachael Wooding, Elizabeth Ayodele, and Laura Pitt-Pulford play the women at the heart of this show.

Olivia Rook
Olivia Rook

“From the minute I first read the script, in my first audition, I was like, ‘Okay, I want to do this, I get this,’” says Rachael Wooding of Chris Bush’s hit musical Standing at the Sky’s Edge, which has transferred to the West End.

Wooding plays Rose, a working-class housewife of the 1960s, and she has been with the show since its first run at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield in 2019, through to a National Theatre run in 2023. Now the musical has opened at London’s Gillian Lynne Theatre, with a number of new cast members, including Laura Pitt-Pulford as middle-class Londoner Poppy and Elizabeth Ayodele as Joy, a Liberian immigrant in the 1980s.

Their roles span the course of 60 years, covering three generations of inhabitants at Sheffield’s iconic Park Hill Estate. The musical charts how this estate, initially established as revolutionary housing for working-class people, becomes the beating heart of a local community.

Wooding, Pitt-Pulford, and Ayodele spoke with London Theatre Magazine about bringing this heart-warming musical to the West End.

Rachael, how does it feel to be returning to Standing at the Sky’s Edge, this time in the West End?

Rachael Wooding: It’s amazing! The luxury for me is that I just keep adding to it. Whenever we do [the musical] again, I don’t rest on my laurels. I’m like, “Well, let’s see what happens,” but every time we do the show, it seems to just land and people love it. It’s special that it’s in this theatre. The set has always been made for each house, but because the musical is [at the Gillian Lynne] for longer, it seems like a more permanent fixture.

Laura and Elizabeth, has there been a certain amount of pressure stepping into your roles?

Laura Pitt-Pulford: I saw the show at the National and I know [Alex Young], who played my role. We’re friends and we’re also really different as actresses. So when I went into the audition, I thought “I’m going to read the script and go in with my version of what I see Poppy as.” It’s always a choice to do that and it could blow up in your face. But I was really lucky that both [director] Rob Hastie and Chris Bush were really happy for me to see Poppy in a different way.

SATSE 1200x800 LT credit Michael Wharley

Elizabeth Ayodele: It’s a massive challenge, because I know Faith [Omole] was incredible. My biggest thing is that I see so much of Joy’s hope and desire for determination, and that is what really makes me happy to play this part. It’s not like stepping into something that’s foreign, it’s stepping into something that feels quite like how I was at certain points in my life. Even in our differences, I still see little similarities.

This is a musical that champions community. What does community mean to each of you?

Pitt-Pulford: Community is huge for me, especially since I’ve had a baby. They say it takes a village and I had a baby during Covid, so I had no village and very much missed that. You need your people, you need your tribe, whoever they may be. It’s important to feel part of something.

[My character] Poppy is on a journey where she wants to better herself. She wants the community feel, she wants to live somewhere where she says, “I knock on doors, I bake biscuits.” Very slowly throughout the show, she creates her own community, and it’s a lovely thing to watch that happen.

Wooding: For me, from being up north and moving to London, I was definitely brought up with that community spirit – everybody knew everybody and there was a real village vibe. You move to London and you feel like you lose that. Yet within my drama school, there was a community. It is really important in the show that we all lift each other up. It’s hard, it’s tough going, and we need each other.

Ayodele: I feel like I need you every day! In this industry, you’re so exposed. People are expecting a lot of you, so it can become easy to become individualistic. But I think in a show like this, I’m so grateful that there’s no one that’s like, “This is my thing.”

Wooding: This is the thing with this show. It’s often said it’s an ensemble piece, but it absolutely is. It has to be about the show, not the individual.

Do you have a favourite song in Richard Hawley’s score?

Pitt-Pulford: It’s such an amazing score. I think this is one of the hardest shows I’ve ever had to answer that question to. The one song that affects me personally is “For Your Lover Give Some Time.” I think it is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard.

Wooding: “Midnight Train.” Those chords start and the simplicity of it, the message, I just love it.

Ayodele: Mine is definitely “Don’t Get Hung Up In Your Soul.” It just starts and you feel like your heart is in these words and it’s so beautifully arranged.

Wooding: I literally have to go, “Don’t listen, because you’re not allowed to lose it yet. You have to wait. So if you listen to this beautiful song, you’re going to be a puddle.”

Booking Standing at the Sky’s Edge tickets on London Theatre.

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Photo credit: Rachael Wooding, Elizabeth Ayodele, and Laura Pitt-Pulford. (Photo by Michael Wharley)

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