Sheffielder Chris Bush tells Park Hill story at Crucible with Richard Hawley music

Sheffield playwright Chris Bush might seem the obvious choice to write an iconic story about her home city featuring the music of one of its most popular stars but she’s only recently joined the show.

By Julia Armstrong
Monday, 4th March 2019, 10:11 pm
Updated Monday, 4th March 2019, 10:12 pm
Chris Bush, writer of Standing at the Sky's Edge
Chris Bush, writer of Standing at the Sky's Edge

The new Crucible musical features the music of city rock star Richard Hawley in a tale of three families who have lived at Park Hill flats over the past six decades.

Chris said it had been quite a quick turnaround getting the script together: “I came on board last summer.

“I knew the brief was Richard’s music and the story of Park Hill and, apart from that, I basically had free rein to tell the story I wanted to tell.

“What I wanted to avoid was the story of its inevitable decline.”

The story spans three storylines, with a young steelworker and his family moving into the new flats in 1960, a refugee family making Park Hill their home in 1988 and a young woman coming to the city from London who moves into the new flats modernised by Urban Splash in 2016.

Chris said: “In between these three stories and moments we see these three timelines play simultaneously.

“You can literally see these three stories on top of each other, to line up how things have changed and not changed.

“There is one part in the second act where we are in 1979, 1992 and 2017 – three election years. You can see what these mean to the city at different points in its history.”

Chris said that the story looks at white working -class families but also also explores the diversity of Sheffield as the first City of Sanctuary: “It’s about people and what it is to call somewhere home and who gets to call somewhere home. It can mean lots and lots of different things.”

She drew parallels with her last Crucible show, Steel: “It was in lots of ways about the Labour Party and an overtly political thing but in all of that successful political drama is personal drama.

“It feels very important that it’s never politics with a capital P.

“That’s really true of Richard’s music. He’s a man of very strong political opinions and he doesn’t hold back from telling you.

“In his music it’s about humanity, lost people and love, not agit prop in a very direct way.

“I feel like the way to do justice to his music in lots of ways as well was to focus in on human stories and let his stories live through that.”

For Chris, one of the most difficult problems was that so many people’s stories are woven into Park Hill: “Covering that in two hours with song and dance is an almost impossible task.

“You’re never truly going to be all things to all people.

“The scary thing is we’re going to be playing to people who lived it and used to live there.

“Some are going to say that wasn’t their experience. That’s inevitable but fine because it’s complex.”

She added: “Sheffield will always be my city but you can’t claim to know every area back to front. You’ve got to latch on to human truths which tell bigger stories.”

Once people knew the show was on the way and during the research period, the team at Sheffield Theatres have been inundated by stories about Park Hill. 

Chris said it was “like being in a sweet shop and being given access to the whole back catalogue and you can use what you want. It’s all brilliant and you want to use all of it.”