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Review: RAMBERT DANCE IN PEAKY BLINDERS: THE REDEMPTION OF THOMAS SHELBY, Birmingham Hippodrome

Review: RAMBERT DANCE IN PEAKY BLINDERS: THE REDEMPTION OF THOMAS SHELBY, Birmingham Hippodrome

The world premiere of the dance theatre event based on the hit TV show

Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby

The sinister chords of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' "Red Right Hand" ring out as Tommy Shelby stands, flanked by family members, with light glinting from the razor blade sewn into his wool tweed cap. It's a scene familiar to any fan of the global hit TV show Peaky Blinders. But something's different - this Tommy Shelby can dance.

It seems only right that the world premiere of this new dance theatre production should take place in Birmingham, the city where Steven Knight's Peaky characters lived, loved, fought and died. Knight himself adapted the story for the stage, working with choreographer and director Benoit Swan Pouffer and the world-renowned Rambert dance company.

It's clear straight away that this isn't simply a rehash of the TV show. The story begins further back, in the trenches of World War One, as the Shelby brothers fight for King and country. At home, the women keep the family empire running. Once the brothers return, the story dovetails into more familiar plotlines: gang warfare, and Tommy's love affair with undercover agent Grace. When tragedy strikes, though, the dance medium allows us to go more deeply into Tommy's mind and experience his grief and conflict in an entirely new way.

Featuring the full permanent Rambert company, the dancing is astounding and varied. Whether it's the jerky, frantic movements that perfectly portray the shocks of war in the opening scenes, the romantic contemporary duet that forms Tommy and Grace's first night together, or the dreamlike ballet pieces that occur in Tommy's imagination, everything is performed brilliantly. When the Shelby family reunite for the first time, their sharp, perfectly in-sync steps simmer with barely suppressed menace, and the later fight scenes are carefully choreographed chaos, giving the feel of unrestrained violence.

Guillaume Quéau (who alternates the lead role with Prince Lyons) is Tommy Shelby incarnate, channelling Cillian Murphy but simultaneously bringing his own personality to the role. He captures grief and trauma perfectly in the Act 2 opening piece, where his movements seem almost like an attempt to escape from his own body.

Naya Lovell (alternating with Seren Williams) gives us a less familiar Grace, not as self-contained as her television counterpart but well-matched with Quéau. Simone Damberg Würtz (alternating with Caití Carpenter) is a standout as Polly, the powerful Shelby family matriarch, and Musa Motha as Barney is mesmerising.

All the aspects of this show combine to create a thrilling atmosphere. Moi Tran's stylish sets take us seamlessly from the battlefields of Flanders to the metalworks of Birmingham, and the use of carousel horses even allows us to visit the racetrack. Richard Gellar's costumes are beautifully detailed, placing us firmly in the 1920s, with some quirky details such as the surrealist headdresses of the opium den attendants. Natasha Chivers' lighting design is possibly the hero of the show, creating breath-taking silhouettes throughout.

Meanwhile, Moshik Kop's high-volume sound design fully immerses us in the music. The show features iconic songs from the TV series as well as new compositions by Roman GianArthur, played by an on-stage band led by musical director Yaron Engler. The score is exhilarating and the familiar and new tracks blend perfectly, along with a few snippets of pre-recorded narration by Benjamin Zephaniah.

The production isn't always perfectly paced. Some scenes in the first act feel rushed and difficult to follow, while the second act's extended stay in the opium den feels overlong. Still, that's all but forgotten by the time the show ends with a spectacular fire display and an uplifting final sequence that celebrates resilience and family, and is thoroughly imbued with Peaky spirit.

This is a show that will please both those who are already Peaky Blinders fans, and those who are meeting the Shelby family for the first time, while also undoubtedly bringing dance to new audiences.

Gloriously dark and darkly glorious, The Redemption of Thomas Shelby is an experience not to be missed.

Rambert Dance in Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby at Birmingham Hippodrome until 2 October, then at Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre, followed by a UK tour

Photo Credit: Johan Persson



Related Stories
Guest Blog: Composer Roman GianArthur Talks About His Work on RAMBERTS PEAKY BLINDERS: THE Photo
When Steven Knight and Benoit Swan Pouffer approached me about composing music for a dance theatre show about Peaky Blinders I was curious as to why. Why me (I had no notable experience composing for dance) and why Peaky Blinders?


From This Author - Laura Lott


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