Sheffield housing estate made star of theatre show
- 2 September 2011
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
One of the UK's most iconic and infamous housing estates has been taken over by 250 actors who are staging a play in its corridors and courtyards.
Sheffield's Park Hill site is Europe's largest listed property, famous for walkways known as "streets in the sky".
The flats are being redeveloped after gaining a bad reputation in the 1980s.
The blocks form an imposing and bleak backdrop for Slick, a large-scale eco-thriller by the National Youth Theatre, which made its debut on Thursday.
The audience is led by actors through the empty concrete shells of buildings undergoing redevelopment, which double as the decks of an ocean liner and a mysterious island built on discarded plastic bags.
The finale takes place on grass in front of one of the blocks, where the cast of hundreds take part in choreographed crowd scenes as acrobats abseil down the side of the building.
Two-thirds of the Park Hill complex are currently empty as they are renovated, but a number of the remaining residents watched the spectacular climax from a stairwell.
"We've been sat upstairs watching them practice," said Nicola Carter, who took two daughters to join the audience for the opening performance.
"It makes a change to have something different happening."
Another daughter was watching from their flat, she said. "She knows all the songs."
The estate was opened in 1961 but later became run-down and notorious for crime, drugs and deprivation.
In 1997, English Heritage surprised those who viewed it as an eyesore by listing the entire complex, meaning it could not be demolished.
But the decision was hailed by those who regarded it as a visionary piece of modernist architecture, and it is now being given a major makeover by the hip regeneration company Urban Splash.
Two thirds of the original 1,000 council flats will be be made available for private ownership, with the first going on sale next month.
Slick is the second part of the National Youth Theatre's three-year environmental trilogy, which started with Swarm, about the plight of bees, in London last year.
Artistic director Paul Roseby said the location's "urban decay" fitted the theme of environmental degradation.
"The landscape set the tone of the piece about the environment," he said.
"There's optimism there, there's regeneration going on, but there's also deprivation - and there are definitely some real serious issues there about the decline of that housing estate.
"It's fantastic for a journey to take a promenade audience through some of the corridors."
The National Youth Theatre's famous former members include Doctor Who's Matt Smith, James Bond star Daniel Craig and Little Britain's Matt Lucas and David Walliams.
The organisation is also currently staging Our Days of Rage in London, looking at what might lie behind street violence, which gained extra relevance following the English riots last month.