Sheffield musician Richard Hawley to tell Park Hill's story in song at the Crucible theatre in new stage production

The history of Sheffield's Park Hill estate will be told through song at the Crucible theatre in the debut stage production by city musician Richard Hawley.

Friday, 2nd March 2018, 10:14 am
Updated Saturday, 3rd March 2018, 12:10 pm
Richard Hawley

Standing At The Sky's Edge - a musical that takes its name from a Mercury Prize-nominated album released by Hawley in 2012 - will open next year, comprising old and new compositions interwoven with tales of Park Hill residents covering half a century.

The former council estate, famous for its 'streets in the sky' wide enough to accommodate a milk float, was completed in 1961. Designed in the austere, Brutalist style of architecture, which emphasised the use of raw concrete, the scheme was one of the most ambitious developments of its time, but later fell into disrepair and became a crime hotspot.

The Park Hill estate in Sheffield

In 1998 the blocks were Grade II* listed, protecting them from demolition and giving Park Hill the status of Europe's largest listed building. It is now being regenerated by developer Urban Splash; the first phase of modern flats and business space is finished, and more residential housing is on the way along with student accommodation and a £21 million arts centre which will have Sheffield's biggest gallery.

The musical, a key part of Sheffield Theatres' 2018-19 season, will be directed by Robert Hastie, who took over as the company's artistic director in 2016. The idea was developed by Matthew Dunster, who previously directed writer Martin McDonagh's play Hangmen, while the book is by Michael Wynne, a playwright who also has also worked extensively in TV drama. Hawley, who is rearranging his older songs for the production, wants to tell the story of postwar Britain through its housing.

The guitarist, who joined the Crucible's youth theatre as a teenager, was once a member of indie band Longpigs, and later played as a touring musician with Pulp. He has released seven albums as a solo artist so far - Standing At The Sky's Edge was a pun on the name of another Sheffield community, Skye Edge.

Workshops for the show have already been held, and performances will run from March 14 to April 6, 2019. Sheffield Theatres hopes the story will resonate outside its home city in a similar way to last year's big success Everybody's Talking About Jamie, the musical about a 16-year-old aspiring drag queen that has transferred to the West End and is even rumoured to be heading to Broadway.

The poster artwork for Standing At The Sky's Edge, the new musical about Park Hill with songs by Richard Hawley.

Sheffield will be celebrated elsewhere in the 2018-19 season with more new work. In the Crucible Studio, Inherited Cities will explore the idea of 'passing Sheffield on to young people', and is a co-production with Third Angel. Local playwright Chris Bush has also written Steel, which is being premiered in the Studio and focuses on the last three decades of women in the Labour party.

The season starts in the Crucible in September with a fresh staging of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Hastie with a score by Dan Gillespie Sells of The Feeling, who worked on the music for Jamie. The theatre's Christmas musical is romantic comedy Kiss Me, Kate, and the Lyceum pantomime is Peter Pan; Damien Williams is returning for an 11th stint as the dame.

Next year the Crucible opens in February with Rutherford and Son by Githa Sowerby. Set in the Industrial north in 1912, the play depicts how the women in a family emerge from the shadow of their overbearing father and prove themselves worthy of inheriting his legacy.

Park Hill in 1986.

Later in 2019, Close Quarters, a thriller by Kate Bowen about the first generation of British women in close combat roles, gets its premiere in the Studio, while the venue's season ends with Debbie Tucker Green's Hang, directed by Sheffield's resident assistant director Taio Lawson. The story shows what happens 'when the victim of crime has power over the fate of the criminal'.Touring highlights in the Lyceum include Showstopper! The Improvised Musical, Tellytubbies Live, The Gruffalo's Child, Flashdance, Bollywood musical Taj Express, Fame, Rock of Ages and Cilla, about the late Cilla Black. The Band, the Take That musical, returns and Northern Ballet presents The Three Musketeers. The Messiah, starring Hugh Dennis and Lesley Garrett, comes to Sheffield in November before going to the West End, and the National Theatre brings a new production of Macbeth.

In a bid to broaden its audience, Sheffield Theatres is expanding its IGNITE scheme - which offers free tickets to drama or performing arts students at schools and colleges - to those studying English, including people at university anywhere in South Yorkshire.Tickets for all new shows go on sale to members on March 10, before general booking opens on March 24 at 10am.

The Park Hill estate in Sheffield
The poster artwork for Standing At The Sky's Edge, the new musical about Park Hill with songs by Richard Hawley.
Park Hill in 1986.