stirring music reinforced by Sheffield steel

    (Johan Persson)

(Johan Persson)

Who would have thought that a musical about the brutal Sheffield Park Hill housing estate could be so exciting? Playwright Chris Bush worked the stirring earlobes of her countryman, the famous singer-songwriter Richard Hawley, into a compelling triple narrative covering the post-war utopian concept of development, its demise in the eighties and to 21.St yuppie century reborn.

As well as a moving human story, this is an interaction between modern concrete buildings: Park Hill, the National, and the Crucible, where the artistic director of Sheffield Theatres, Robert Hastie, staged the show for the first time in 2019. Even only after his trip down to London, he is still defiantly married to Sheffield, with jokes about the city’s two football teams and the locals’ hatred of Leeds. Although the details are local, the message of community, pride and the double-edged sword of nobility is universal.

Although Sheffield runs like arterial blood through Hawley’s output not all the songs used here are suitable for their theatrical restoration. The individual and interconnected elements of the three stories are a bit too neat. But this is still a huge achievement by Hastie and Bush, one of our most prolific and engaging writers: a bold step forward for musical theatre, bringing steel from the working-class north to the South Bank.

In 1960, we see a spirited Rose and her wise but chauvinistic husband Harry gratefully move from slum housing to these bright, airy streets in the sky. Almost three decades later, her son Jimmy meets Joy, the Liberian refugee, in the estate which is now a scuzzy. Cut to 2015, and London professional Poppy buys a flat in the now-renovated, trendy and futuristic telegenic block to escape his ex-wife Nikki. “Some concrete polish, gerrit on Doctor Who, and people who think it’s nirvana,” as eye-rolling estate agent Connie puts it.

    (Johan Persson)

(Johan Persson)

All three core stories are about love and longing, pitted against them by internal tensions or external forces. There is anger here at the Thatcherite destruction of northern industry but also ambivalence about a Cool Britannia-style urban regeneration of social cleansing. Northern working class culture is both celebrated and criticized, especially when it comes to traditional gender roles. Lynne Page’s joyful choreography takes inspiration from dancehall.

The title track and first act closer There’s a Storm A-Comin’ roll over you like a powerful wave, and For Your Lover Give Some Time is wrenchingly beautiful. As Nikki, Maimuna Memon reliably unleashes her strong pipes on Open Up Your Door.

But one of the nice things about the show is that anyone can lead a song, and strong voices come out from all over the world: from Rachael Wooding’s vivacious Rose and Robert Lonsdale’s frail Harry; Joy by Faith Omole and Connie Bobbie Little – who is underused as a link between the ages and as an occasional commentator and narrator.

This is a democratic, democratic work that the cast and crew of Ben Stones – complete with the famous Park Hill neon sign mimicking the graffiti original “I love that you’ll marry me” – seem to be in direct conversation with the audience and the auditorium. . Break up.

National Theatre, until 25 March,

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