Find out how 'Standing at the Sky's Edge' journeyed from Sheffield to the West End

The Olivier Award-winning British musical, which is set in Sheffield's Park Hill Estate, is playing at the Gillian Lynne Theatre from 8 February to 3 August.

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

Creating a new musical is a big ask, and very few of them become award-winning hits, which is why it’s so thrilling to see the homegrown show Standing at the Sky’s Edge taking up residence in the West End in 2024.

The much-loved original musical – with a book by Chris Bush and the indelible songs of Richard Hawley – has won the hearts of numerous audiences, beginning in Sheffield in 2019, and then stopping by the National Theatre on its way to the Gillian Lynne Theatre.

Critics adored it too, and the show won the Olivier Award for Best New Musical in 2023 – plus another Olivier for its wonderful score.

Before you catch this extraordinary work in the West End, learn all about the amazing journey that the show has been on.

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The origins of Standing at the Sky’s Edge

The initial idea for this new musical came from producer Rupert Lord. He thought it could powerful to tell the story of Sheffield’s iconic Park Hill estate through the music of the city’s great singer-songwriter, Richard Hawley.

Lord approached the acclaimed playwright Chris Bush (also a Sheffield native), who made a splash in 2007 with TONY! The Blair Musical, and has since won praise for work as diverse as Steel at Sheffield Theatres in 2018, the provocative The Assassination of Katie Hopkins at Theatr Clywd in 2018, the National Theatre community shows Pericles and The Odyssey, and, in 2022, Rock/Paper/Scissors, which took over all three stages at Sheffield Theatres.

Bush thought it was a fantastic idea, and set about creating a narrative that incorporated Hawley’s songs – which, with their variously stirring, romantic, funny, poignant and inspiring themes, provided plenty of scope for a rich dramatic tale.

Standing at the Sky’s Edge follows three generations of Park Hill inhabitants. In the 1960s, we’re introduced to early residents of the brutalist concrete Park Hill and its “streets in the sky” – the revolutionary post-war housing for working-class people. Rose and Harry are one of those optimistic families, but their future will be complicated by the closure of steel plants, plus the changing roles of men and women.

By the 1980s, the real-life Park Hill had become rundown and a more dangerous place to live. But it still represents a kind of security to the teenage Joy and her older cousins, immigrants who fled the civil war in Liberia. Joy strikes up a bond with a local boy, Jimmy.

The third story takes place in 2016. Park Hill’s fortunes have changed again: it’s now Grade II-listed and represents chic “urban regeneration”. Poppy, a middle-class Londoner getting over a bad break-up, hopes it will give her a fresh start. Bush cleverly weaves these three tales together in a beautiful portrait of humanity and social history, partly narrated by another character, Connie.

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Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, 2019

Standing at the Sky’s Edge had its world premiere at the Crucible Theatre on 20 March 2019. It was directed by Robert Hastie – also the artistic director of Sheffield Theatres – with a design by Ben Stones incorporating recognisable elements of Park Hill, like its famous “I love you will u marry me” sign, originally a graffitied proposal on one of the bridges.

The premiere cast included Rachael Wooding as Rose, Robert Lonsdale as Harry, Alex Young as Poppy, Maimuna Menon as her ex Nikki, Adam Hugill as Jimmy, and Faith Omole as Joy.

The production was lauded by critics, and went on to win Best Musical Production at the UK Theatre Awards, and the theatre prize from the South Bank Sky Arts Awards.

Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, 2022

The show was an instant hit with Sheffield audiences, so, following its premiere production, it was immediately brought back for an encore run at the Crucible (albeit slightly delayed by the pandemic).

The second Sheffield run lasted from 10 December 2022 to 21 January 2023.

The company recorded their Original Live Cast Recording during that revival, at the Arch Studios in Sheffield, and released it in February 2023.

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National Theatre, 2023

There was no question that Standing at the Sky’s Edge had become a firm favourite with its home crowd – but would it translate to audiences beyond Sheffield? That was the big question as the team prepared for a fresh run at the National Theatre in London.

The answer was a resounding yes. Although the show proudly has some very specific Sheffield references in it, its story and themes are absolutely universal. We all understand what it’s like to try to make a home somewhere, to both cherish and sometimes resent our families, to fall in love, have our hearts broken, to have big dreams, and to see seismic changes happen in our country – some good, some bad.

The musical played in the Olivier space at the National from 9 February - 25 March. It was nominated for eight Olivier Awards – the most of any musical that year – and went on to win two: Best New Musical, and Best Original Score or New Orchestrations for Richard Hawley and Tom Deering.

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Gillian Lynne Theatre, 2024

This year sees Standing at the Sky’s Edge reach the next exciting stage in its journey: a West End run. The show begins performances at the Gillian Lynne Theatre in February 2024.

The cast is a brilliant mix of returning performers from that Olivier-winning company and fresh talent: Rachael Wooding (Rose) and Samuel Jordan (Jimmy) reprise their roles, joined by the likes of Laura Pitt-Pulford (Poppy), Joel-Harper Jackson (Harry), Mel Lowe (Connie), and Lauryn Redding (Nikki).

Don’t miss the next chapter in this incredible British success story.

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

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Photo credit: the 2024 cast of Standing at the Sky's Edge. (Photo courtesy of production)

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