Musical homage to  city through Park Hill story 

Standing at the Sky's Edge launch at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. Pictured is Richard Hawley. Picture: Chris Etchells
Standing at the Sky's Edge launch at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. Pictured is Richard Hawley. Picture: Chris Etchells

It was the daftest idea I had ever been offered,” is how Richard Hawley describes the origins of  Standing at the Sky’s Edge, the musical opening at the Sheffield Crucible next week.

"It was five years ago when we were on tour in Lisbon,” recalls the Sheffield singer-songwriter. “They came to me and said they'd like to use my music to make a musical."

It has been a long process bringing to the Crucible stage what has turned out to be Standing at the Sky’s Edge, named after his acclaimed 2012 album, and the story of three generations of occupants of Park Hill flats told through the music and lyrics of Hawley and book by Sheffield-born playwright Chris Bush.

“The idea was from the producer Rupert Lord who knew Richard well and had worked with him before,” explains Sheffield Theatres artistic director Rob Hastie who is directing the show. 

“It was his crazy scheme and he said if we are going to do it has got to be in Sheffield. He came and spoke to my predecessor and that set it in train and then when I arrived I looked at it and thought this is a project I really want to do.

“So it’s been a long time in gestation. It has followed the standard path for musicals through different workshops.” 

In fact there had been a couple of false starts on the script before Chris Bush came on board last July.

“There was great work along the way in developing the idea but what we came to realise what the show needed was someone who really knew the Sheffield voice from the inside,” continues Hastie.

“That’s not to say they had to be from Sheffield and other writers can’t write about other places and Chris doesn’t always have to write about Sheffield but I felt the right person was the person who had already filled that stage with Sheffield communities {three plays with Sheffield People’s Theatre} and we had already commissioned Steel which is a miniature while this is a broad canvas but similarly used different timelines to show the way the world is.
“We wanted to tell a cross section of stories but there is a danger if you spread it too thinly you don’t go in deep enough with any of the characters. We eventually landed on three stories and quite a tight core of central characters. We have actors available to play neighbours and a host of other characters.” 
And so Sky’s Edge has three stories from Park Hill, starting in the Sixties with a young family moving in, then the experience of refugees in the 1980s, and finally incomers in the present day moving into a refurbished  flat.
Richard Hawley sees the  show having wider scope. “We are using Park Hill as an aperture through which we see post-war Britain,” he says. As to his contribution to the production, “I haven’t done owt really,” he declares. 

Hastie laughs at his typical modesty. “The whole idea comes from the particular stance  of a Sheffield music writer who tells stories and has generated a storyline in music from this city.”

He  says he has been content to sit back and leave decisions to the creative team because the theatre is not his world, although he did reveal as a teenager he and a mate enjoyed a time at the Crucible Youth Theatre. 
He has relished the new challenge, however. “It’s an adventure. If you don’t embrace new things you just stagnate.”

There has been one unexpected pleasure. As a Wednesday supporter he took pleasure in seeing “a massive”poster for his project right outside Bramall Lane.
Standing at the Sky’s Edge runs at the Sheffield Crucible from March 15 to April 6.