Standing At The Sky’s Edge: Musical captures life on an infamous Sheffield council estate

A musical based on a real Sheffield council estate and set to the music of Richard Hawley from Pulp has been nominated for eight Olivier Awards, ITV News arts editor Nina Nannar reports

The Park Hill housing estate, an unmissable group of buildings on a hillside overlooking the city of Sheffield, has inspired much wonder, debate, dismay and division over the six decades it’s been open.

Originally an architecturally groundbreaking solution to the postwar housing crisis, it was marvelled at.

Its external walkways - the first of their kind - were known as 'Streets in the Sky,' some wide enough to get a milk float down.

Musician Richard Hawley, like most of Sheffield’s population, grew up knowing all about the estate.

Park Hill estate in Sheffield. Credit: ITV News

His grandparents grew up nearby, he went out with a girl from the estate and, like all the city residents, he followed the highs and lows in the history of the flats.

Their demise in the 80s, when a lack of investment saw them become dilapidated and rife with crime, through to the 2000s, when plans to refurbish the by then listed buildings began taking shape, after they were sold by Sheffield city council to a developer.

It’s a story you might not immediately think of as a musical, but with eight Olivier nominations the history of Park Hill has clearly hit a chord.

Written by Sheffield playwright Chris Bush, the show was sound tracked by Hawley, who supplied the music and lyrics for Standing At The Sky’s Edge, using some of his back catalogue and new orchestrations.

Standing At The Sky's Edge writer Chris Bush told ITV News the show's cast and creators were 'so grateful' that audiences have taken the show 'to their hearts'

He’s amongst the nominees and is particularly gratified that the musical’s sell-out run, transferring from Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre to The National Theatre in London, is proof that the story of Park Hill speaks to so many people.

The musical tells the history of the flats from the 60s, through the 80s and onto the 2000s, through three intertwining families in three different eras.

Hawley was sceptical, but curious, when first approached to supply the music more than ten-years-ago, but he was won over by the project’s ambition and its continuing relevance.

It is, he says, the story of the flats, but one that encompasses the history of postwar Britain.

The musician, who’s played with Sheffield bands Pulp and Arctic Monkeys, is tight-lipped about rumours the production may be heading for TV.

But he admits it's continuing life, in some form, would make him happy that the stories of so many in his home city are being preserved.

Faith Omole, who has been nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role in Standing At The Sky's Edge, told ITV News it had been an 'honour' to take part in the production

The work on redeveloping Park Hill is due to be completed in the next few years.

There will be around 3,000 residents there in all.

Those like Joanne Marsden, who has known life here before and after the redevelopment began, have told Hawley the musical does indeed tell their story, reflecting the highs and lows of life on the estate.

She is pressing him for a sequel.

In the meantime there are Sunday’s Oliviers, where the musical has been nominated for the Best New Musical, with Robert Hastie (Best Director), Faith Omole (Best Actress in a Musical), Maimuna Memon (Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical), Lynne Page (Best Theatre Choreographer), Ben Stones (Best Set Design), Bobby Aitken (Best Sound Design) as well as Richard Hawley and Tom Deering (Best Original Score or New Orchestrations).

Park Hill could be set for a very good night.

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