In telling the story of Park Hill through the musical, Standing at the Sky’s Edge, about to open at the Crucible Theatre, the writer Chris Bush is all too aware: “There’s a huge feeling of responsibility to get it right and present a fair portrait. People will know if we get it wrong.
“But it is complicated because people have different views. Some will say it was beautiful and it was fun and others that it was a hellhole. You have to represent all of that.”
The playwright has written the book to the lyrics and music from fellow Sheffielder Richard Hawley.
She also appreciates that you don’t have to have been a resident of the iconic flats overlooking the city to feel an attachment.
“Everyone has their own Park Hill story,” she points out. His mother remembers as a teenager in London being part of a youth group trip that came up to Sheffield to see Park Hill .” It was the mid-Sixties when Park Hill was seen as this example of the architecture of the future.”
Chris has different memories. “I was born in 1986 by which time it was fading a bit. So when it came to the refurbishment I was like others who thought they are really nice and would be a great place to move to.”
Standing at the Sky’s Edge has three segments set in different timelines. “In the sixties a young working class couple move in. Then in 1989 we follow some Liberian refugees and that takes us to 2004 when Sheffield became the first City of Sanctuary and it’s a nice bit of synchronicity that the first group were Liberians. The third section is the era of gentrification and features a young woman up from London to escape a relationship that’s gone wrong.”
She didn’t feel it necessary to reproduce actual stories since it wasn’t a documentary but made sure “nothing happens in the show that couldn’t have happened”
It was a delight to work with Richard Hawley’s songs, although: “One of the most difficult things was having the freedom to dip into this whole back catalogue and wanting to put in so much. That way the show would have been 12 hours long.
“Of the 15 or so songs in the show half of them are things you couldn’t bear to not have. You have to have Cole’s Corner, for example.”
“There were other times when I was writing and thought, I need a love story at this point, what’s in the back catalogue? It had to fit logistically into the ebb and flow of the story. And also you had to think of the tone, you couldn’t pick 16 ballads, you had to find a balance and look for some uptempo numbers.”
The Sheffield-born playwright has previously worked at Sheffield Theatres on three lcommunity productions with Sheffield People’s Theatre.
“I couldn’t have done Pericles at the National (with a cast of 200 non-professionals) without that experience,” she reflects. It was part of “a brilliant” last year which also took in Steel at the Crucible Studio and The Assassination of Katie Hopkins.
“Next year is looking big too with five or six shows starting to solidify,” she says.
“You want to make work that has an impact. You might have a shiny production at the Old Vic which is seen by a mature audience who will be going to see 20 other shows at that theatre. Something like community theatre or Sky’s Edge will make a difference to people who feel it belongs to them. I want to know it’s going to matter to the people who are going to see it.”