Standing at the Sky’s Edge
National Theatre, London, until March 25
Our homes – unless, of course, they’ve only just been built – come with their own histories and maybe ghosts. People have lived and died in them, known happiness and sorrow, and, in time, after our tenures come to an end, others will move in and their stories will continue, without us.
That’s the premise of Chris Bush’s Standing at the Sky’s Edge, a musical set in a block on Sheffield’s Park Hill housing estate telling the stories of the different people who have lived in one of its apartments over the years. The previous occupiers haunt it, their stories told in short segments, the present and the past becoming, after a while, inextricably bound up together, casting a wider light on the history of these islands.
Ben Stones’s set is impressive – you get to see the whole block and the apartment, high up with a view of the city. In the ’80s, it’s done up, or, to use the language of the time, yuppified.
That’s when Alex Young as Poppy takes up residence. She’s an upwardly mobile professional, fleeing a relationship break-up in London.
There are flashbacks to the ’60s as Rose (Rachael Wooding) moves in with her alpha male (Robert Lonsdale), and, decades later, their son Jimmy (Samuel Jordan) takes up residence in the flat with refugee Joy (Faith Omole).
The changing times are well evoked – Kinnock’s notoriously vainglorious “we’re alright” rally in Sheffield, Thatcher’s victory, the rise and fall of Nick Clegg, and, for a while, the characters talk dolefully of how the block is overrun by “s— Brexit-voting types,” until, eventually, in the story of Poppy, a kind of peace prevails at the apartment.
Bush resists the obvious temptation to romanticise the block’s rough early days and its working-class characters, and, as one of them not unreasonably points out, it was never any fun getting into the lifts when they stank of urine. Richard Hawley’s music and lyrics amount to little more than muzak in the background, but the acting, storytelling and Robert Hastle’s direction all make this a very classy night at the theatre.