Reviewed by Matt Forrest
Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Peaky Blinders has a lot to answer for: on the one hand it’s one of the most popular TV series of the 21st century, what with its sublime performances and killer soundtrack, a great deal of viewers would have it in their top ten list of favourite series of all time, such is the acclaim and love for the show.
The flip side to this, is the rise of “Peaky Blinders” fan boys dressed in flats-caps, and waist coats invading town centre pubs across the land each weekend. Then, there is the almost criminal use of Cillian Murphy pictures in full Thomas Shelby getup, alongside some horrendous quote about respect, usually posted on social media, when someone’s had a fall out with a friend/family member and is trying to prove a point, sorry it just winds me up!
However, one offshoot I would never have foreseen would be a dance show. Well, respected dance company Rambert have done just that with their spectacular, Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby.
Condensing storylines from the first four series, the show opens as Tommy Shelby’s gang emerge from the trenches of The First World War. They are a damaged, battered, bloodied bunch, forced to commit violent acts that leave physical and mental scars and shape the way the Peaky Blinders will operate in the future. It’s a stunning opening sequence that perfectly sets the tone for what is to follow, exquisite yet brutal routines, beautifully choreographed by Benoit Swan Pouffer, with moody, atmospheric lighting by Nataha Chivers.
From the battlefields of the Somme, we are transported to the brutal factory conditions of the Black Country, where the female gang members, Polly and Ada take centre stage. They fight a different war, a war of oppression and greed perpetrated by a sleazy, factory foreman, showing just how vital women were to the Great War cause, and how they kept the country going whilst men were away fighting. Again, this is a visually stunning sequence as the Birmingham industrial scene is brought to life with huge metal chains, fiery pyrotechnics and a wide range of stunning costumes from Richard Gellar.
With introductions done and dusted, the story focuses on the relationship of Tommy and mysterious lounge singer, Grace. What follows is a whirl-wind story of betrayal, romance, and murder, with the backdrop of glitzy, glamorous night clubs and police man-hunts, gang warfare culminating in a wedding and assassination, and that’s just the first act!
This is a treat for the senses, with Peaky Blinders’ creator Steven Knight on writing duties, he has given us both a greatest hits of the show’s big moments, whilst offering up something new, that of a detailed examination of grief, addiction and trauma, especially prominent in the second act.
The superb, ensemble cast work incredibly hard throughout, with stunning, beautifully choreographed routines, they tread a fine line between elegant and rugged. Visually it packs a punch with so much going on around you it’s hard to know where to focus your gaze.
Set designer Moi Tran’s bold, ambitious staging allows the action to shift from the tunnels and trenches of World War One, to opium houses, to glamourous night clubs. It’s a fantastic use of space as dancers spring out of hidden pockets, it certainly gives the show a frenetic quality.
Other aspects associated with the series are also ever present, an absolute banging soundtrack with reworking of songs by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Radiohead and of course the signature Red Right Hand by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds brought to life by Yaron Engler and a brilliant live band. Also present is TV series regular, the poet Benjamin Zephaniah, who’s always recognisable voice guides us through this bloody, violent world.
My only real issue is the use of dialogue from the TV series, clips of Cillian Murphy and brilliant, greatly missed Helen McCrory are occasionally played throughout, but due to the sound mix are at times inaudible, which as is as you might expect is rather frustrating.
This is a unique, bold attempt to do something a little different with a much loved franchise, that sees all involved on top of their game and well worth a night at the theatre.
Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby is at The Lowry until Saturday 18th March, Tickets available here.