REVIEW: Standing at the Sky’s Edge (National Theatre) ★★★★★

Standing at the Sky’s Edge is a brand new British musical with music and lyrics by Richard Hawley and a book by Chris Bush. Named after the title track of Hawley’s 2012 album, the musical premiered at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield on 14th March 2019 and received rave reviews from audiences and critics alike. Due to this success, Sky’s Edge was due to be revived in 2020 however was postponed due to the pandemic. Finally, returning to the Crucible Theatre late last year and following in the footsteps of Sheffield mega-hit Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Standing at the Sky’s Edge has now transferred to London playing at The National Theatre until March 2023.

A love letter to Sheffield and a history of modern Britain told through the stories of one iconic estate, Standing at the Sky’s Edge charts the hopes and dreams of three generations over the course of six tumultuous decades. In 1960 we meet Rose and Harry who want the new life they’ve been promised. As they move from the slums into the newly built “streets in the sky”, their son Jimmy falls for Liberian refugee Joy and they just want to spend the rest of their lives together in the 90s, as the estate goes into disrepair. In 2015 Poppy wants to escape her old life in London, as she moves to the newly gentrified estate away from ex-fiancée Nikki.

Using the irresistible songs of legendary Sheffield singer-songwriter Richard Hawley, Standing at the Sky’s Edge’s is a heartfelt exploration of the lives of three families as they navigate love, loss, the power of community and what it is we call home. A castle built of streets in the sky.

Under the direction of Sheffield Theatres Artistic Director Robert Hastie are, Rachael Wooding (Pretty Woman, We Will Rock You, Jersey Boys, Hairspray, Saturday Night Fever, Fame) as Rose, Robert Lonsdale (From Here to Eternity, La Bête) as Harry, Faith Omole (An Ideal Husband, White Noise, A Midsummer Night’s Dream) as Joy, Samuel Jordan (Masters of the Air, Wolfe, All Creatures Great and Small, The Window, Sex Education) as Jimmy, Alex Young (She Loves Me, Guys and Dolls, Show Boat, Anything Goes, Into The Woods) as Poppy and acting as realtor come narrator is Bobbie Little (Heathers, Mamma Mia!, Little Shop of Horrors, Jesus Christ Superstar) as Connie. Joining them in a plethora of other characters are Darragh Cowley (Guys and Dolls, Lord of the Flies) as Workman 1/Gary/Nigel, Ahmed Hamad (Rumi: The Musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) as Workman 3/Kevin/Max, Sèverine Howell-Meri (Dick Whittington, Us Against Whatever) as Justine, David McKechnie (Chicago, Pagent) as Workman 2, Maimuna Memon (The Band Plays On, Into The Woods, Jesus Christ Superstar) as Nikki, Rachael Louise Miller (Les Misérables, The Wizard of Oz, Grease) as Woman 1/Cathy), Baker Mukasa (Tina the Musical, The Comedy of Errors, The Winter’s Tale) as George, Alastair Natkiel (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Strangers on a Train, Shrek the Musical) as Marcus/Housing Officer, Adam Price (Privates On Parade, Hairspray, Kinky Boots) as Charles/Trev/Seb), Consuela Rolle (Remember, Remember, The Worst Witch) as Jenny, Nicola Sloane (London Road, Anything Goes, Love Labour’s Lost) as Vivienne/Karen, Jake Small (Mamma Mia!, Frozen The Musical) as Teen and Deborah Tracey (A Mad World My Masters, Fisherman’s Friends: The Musical!) as Grace/Alice.

As our 1960s couple Rachael Wooding and Robert Lonsdale as Rose and Harry are very affecting. Rose begins the show as a housewife, to devoted husband Harry and grows independent as Harry losses his job and becomes depressed with heartbreaking consequences. Both perform will great skill as Lonsdale vocalizes his helplessness through beautiful song ‘My Little Treasures’ and Rachael Wooding offers a powerfully emotional ‘After The Rain’. Fast-forward a few years and their son Jimmy falls for Joy and their love story begins. Genuinely happy Jimmy and Joy have a beautiful daughter Connie. However as crime grows on the estate and it falls into disrepair, a tragedy occurs that rocks their small family. As Jimmy, Samuel Jordan offers a charming performance growing from disaffected teenager to family man with an outward vulnerability and inner strength that seems well beyond the years of the young performer. Similarly, we see Faith Omole’s Joy grow from child to mother in a performance that gave the audience chills. As modern day dawns, we meet Alex Young’s Poppy and her ex-fiancée Nikki played by Maimuna Memon. Dysfunctional and finding themselves, Poppy and Nikki’s relationship echos a modern outlook on life and love where career often comes first and loving someone is often an act of defiance. Both vocally stunning and incredibly moving, highlights including Memon’s powerful rendition of ‘Open Up Your Door’ and their beautiful duet moments throughout the show. Acting as Narrator and modern day realtor, Bobbie Little’s Connie guides the audience through the musical occasionally popping up to comment on the action and using her outstanding vocal to introduce the second act on Standing at the Sky’s Edge. Adding to the emotional power of this incredible new musical, the remaining cast expertly articulate each character they play with nuance. Offering slick and dynamic harmonies throughout, the larger ensemble shine whether they’re standing in front of mic’s rocking out to the title song or singing gentle backup harmonies during the heartbreaking ‘After The Rain’. Brava!

The brilliance of Chris Bush’s book sees six generations of family life playing out simultaneously while Robert Hastie’s direction skillfully maneuvers them around the stage. Ben Stones careful costume design dresses his actors in instantly recognisable costumes and Lynne Page’s expert choreography keeps the action fresh and constantly moving. A true ensemble piece, we see the almost 1000 flat Park Hill come to life through Hawley’s songs on Ben Stones amazing four storied high set which wraps around the full stage and blends into the Nationals own architecture immaculately.

Uplifting and devastatingly beautiful, Standing at the Sky’s Edge is a spectacular example of new British musical theatre presented in one of the countries most respected and well-known venues. With a cast recording available where all good music is sold, Standing at the Sky’s Edge is sure to become a favorite and receive even more accolades and awards later in the year. Do yourself a favor and book now to see this phenomenal musical before it sells out. It’s just that good!

Reviewed by Stuart James