Standing At The Sky’s Edge: Sheffield Theatres’ success shows city can compete with London

The success of Sheffield’s Standing At The Sky’s Edge musical is proving that regional theatre can stand alongside London shows – says a leading theatre critic and performer. 

After its sell-out debut at The Crucible in 2019, Standing At The Sky’s Edge transferred to London’s National Theatre in February 2023 – and since then has been nominated for eight Olivier awards.

Actress Rachael Wooding, who plays the role of Rose Stanhope, said: “Unlike commercial theatre, regional theatre is more likely to tell stories about people who get overlooked.”

The story follows three generations at the Park Hill estate but although it is Sheffield-based, critics say the themes of the show are relevant and pressing.

Nick Curtis, chief theatre critic at the Evening Standard, said: “It uses Sheffield and particularly the estate in Sheffield as a lens to focus attention on fairly universal things.

“Such as industrialisation, gentrification and the way places get devalued and then revalued by totally different communities.”

Mrs Wooding said: “It also is a story of hardship and hope over many generations and a diverse group of people, and this therefore makes it resonate with a wider range of people.

“As we say in the show, people feel seen and that is very moving.”

Standing at the Sky’s Edge. Photos by Johan Persson

The show has stood alone among London’s competitive commercial theatre as an example of the success of regional theatre, just as Everybody’s Talking About Jamie was in 2017.

As described by a member of the Sheffield public: “We’re like the poor cousin of London’s theatre.”

Mr Curtis attributed this to the “natural consequence of the sort of dominance of London as the cultural, commercial and population centre”.

But Mrs Wooding said: “I personally don’t agree, for me the Crucible is and will always be my favourite place to work.”

Amongst the cast there is hope for more life at the end of the National Theatre, however there is no certainty. 

Both Mrs Wooding and Mr Curtis encouraged audiences to continue going to their local theatres to ensure it keeps growing and is able to be so successful.

Mrs Wooding said: “get involved and if you are able to contribute, especially as the government continues to cut funding in the arts, do!”

Written by Georgia Cook

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