Park Hill – Sheffield’s iconic brutalist housing estate – has always looked out onto the Crucible. Since the day the theatre was built the landmark has been visible from the foyer, across the valley and, for Director Robert Hastie, “it feels like it’s always been asking for its story to be told.”
In his upcoming musical, Hastie aims to do just that: “It couldn’t get any more Sheffield. It’s the story of generations of people brought up in that building, and by extension the people who’ve lived there and made it.”
“The story of Park Hill is a drama in itself,” he suggested, built in 1961 as the future of social housing, through turbulent times in the Eighties and Nineties, then being grade listed, sold off, and redeveloped as private flats.
“There’s a journey in that. It’s not just the story of this building, but of this city and this country over the last 60 years.”
Standing at the Sky’s Edge follows three generations of residents in one flat over the estate’s history: there is a young steelworker and his family who move into the newly built flats in the Sixties, a refugee family in the Eighties, and a young woman moving in following the flats’ regeneration.
Making a show about Sheffield’s landmark building doesn’t come without risk, however. As the play’s writer, Sheffield-born Chris Bush admitted: “I do feel a huge amount of pressure.”
“We are talking real people’s stories and the audience will know if we’ve got this wrong and that is daunting, but also a satisfying challenge.”
Throughout the development, the show’s creative team regularly spoke with people who have a long-standing and close connection with Park Hill.
“Speaking to people has been really important. This project has been gestating for 5 years and right from the beginning we’ve be talking to former and current residents,” said Hastie.
“Everybody from Sheffield, if they didn’t live in Park Hill, they know someone who did.”
Fortunately, another Sheffield icon supports the play: musician Richard Hawley. The show is built around Hawley’s songs, some written specially for show, others classics including the title track ‘Standing at the Sky’s Edge’, taken from his 2012 album of the same name.
Care has been taken, however, not to co-opt these stories in the play. In particular, they’ve decided to avoid the infamous “I Love You Will U Marry Me” graffiti which Bush suggested, “would feel exploitative”, seemingly heeding the criticism of developers Urban Splash, who immortalised it in a neon sign.
“We haven’t been in contact with the man who wrote it. It’s part of the fabric of Park Hill and we do refer to it. But the story itself of the graffiti didn’t feel like ours to tell. We’ve felt a real responsibility all the way along because this is a real place and these are the stories of real people who live there,” said Hastie.
Still, despite the specificity of the play’s location, the team believes there is greater story to be told as well.
“We are using Park Hill as an aperture through which we see post-war Britain,” said Hawley. While Bush feels “it’s really about what it means to call somewhere home and to feel like somewhere is your home, and that story couldn’t feel more universal.”
Standing at the Sky’s Edge will be running at the Crucible from March 15 to April 6.