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Gillian Lynne Theatre

I considered myself lucky when I got to see the amazing musical Standing at the Sky’s Edge at the National Theatre last year. It felt fitting seeing a musical based at one the UK’s iconic brutalist estates at London’s iconic brutalist theatre.

I was pleased when I heard that it was getting a west end run, but wondered how it would transition to a regular west end theatre. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to find out though as a) I was worried that seeing it with a different cast might ruin the original experience and b) I wasn’t sure I needed to see it again so soon. It’s very rare that I go and see a musical twice (I think Avenue Q is the only musical I’ve seen twice in the west end) but sometimes something is so good you feel like it’s worth it.

The new run opened in February and when I saw friend’s going to see it at its new location, the Gillian Lynne Theatre, I immediately had FOMO and booked tickets for Easter Sunday. I was rather surprised that I could get tickets for a Sunday as I thought most theatres had Sundays off, but it felt like a good way to spend a supposedly special Sunday.

I’d never been to the Gillian Lynne Theatre before, and despite having walked passed numerous times and it looking far more modern, I still assumed it was going to be like the many Victorian era theatres with uncomfortable seats and a standard stage and auditorium. Turns out I was wrong. It opened in January 1973 as the New London Centre, built to replace the Winter Garden that had closed in 1960 and was subsequently demolished. Thanks to laws at the time, there was s requirement that a new theatre be built whenever another was torn down. I don’t know if that law still exists but somehow I doubt retaining such cultural locations would be so far up the government’s list. It was renamed the Gillian Lynne Theatre in 2018 after the late dancer and choreographer.

As we walked in the door I was immediately greeted with a fantastic concrete foyer. It suddenly made sense why this venue had been chosen for this show. The auditorium itself is more in the round, much like the National Theatre, with flexibility to adjust to the production. The staging was therefore much the same as the original London run I’d seen.

Standing at the Sky’s Edge

When I booked the tickets, admitedly a little tipsy which meant I paid more for tickets than I normally would, I thought I had booked second row stall seats. It turns out that depending on the production, the seating layout can change, and for this production there was no row A. Our row B seats were therefore right at the front, so close to the actors that I could see all the details in their faces. At once point I almost felt like I was going to have one of the actors on my lap as he ran, a few times, on to the stage right in front of me.

I wasn’t quite as emotional as I was on seeing it for the first time, but I was pleased that it stood up well to a second viewing. Different parts stood out this time round, but laugh out loud moments still had the same reaction and some elements still felt a little too close to home (like the mother daughter relationship). The music, written by Richard Hawley, was still as powerful and I immediately recognised some of the cast members. The political narrative feels even more relevant in a year where we know a general election is coming, but we don’t know when. Like the elections of 1979, 1992 and 2017, the three periods in which the story is set, 2024 is a year where change is needed and hopefully coming, but we don’t know whether it’s going to be the change this country needs or wants.

I was desperate to stand up and stretch my legs by the time it finished, but the seats were far more comfortable than I expected. All round it was a fantastic theatrical experience and a show I’d encourage everyone to go and see. I’ll also be keeping an eye out for future productions at this theatre if only to get to see more of the beautiful brutal interior.

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