The hotly anticipated new Rambert dance production based on the hit television series Peaky Blinders premiered at co-producing venue Birmingham Hippodrome in an explosion of anger, angst and adrenaline.
Written by Steven Knight, creator of the television show, this new tale is very much centred on Thomas Shelby and his journey from the battlefields of World War One to heading up the family business. And so we see a Tommy who we are told survives the war physically alive but morally and mentally dead and, as the story unfolds, clearly pulled between these two extremes.
Rambert artistic director Benoit Swan Pouffer’s choreography encapsulates all we have come to associate with the Peaky Blinders gang. The movements are charged with laconic menace – from the tipping of a cap to the pulling of a gun in a matter of moments, where a meeting in the street can soon descend into a knife fight.
There is minute detail to the movement, particularly in the fight scenes which are exhilarating – you are never quite sure where your eyes need to be to capture the best moments.
In keeping with the Peaky Blinders brand, the score by Roman GianArthur is wonderful and features a blend of live music and songs from a range of artists including Radiohead, Anna Calvi, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and a new track from Laura Mvula. Plus of course, the familiar sound of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “Red Right Hand”, theme tune to the television show.
Guillaume Quéau and Prince Lyons alternate the title role, with Guillaume in the spotlight on press night. His Tommy is bold and sexy but also tortured; this is a man who has lost his soul and is plunging the depths of despair. Naya Lovell and Seren Williams alternate the role of Tommy’s beloved Grace, with Naya appearing on press night. Here is a woman caught between duty and attraction – an attraction which proves both bloody and fatal.
The creative team have stayed true to the colours and context that Peaky Blinders fans know and love. Moi Tran’s sets are ingenious, giving us split level action which brings much of the dancing really close to the audience, not to mention into the auditorium at times. Richard Gellar’s costumes are reminiscent of the 1920s suits and caps while also straying into the fantastical at times with giant dogs on leashes and nightclub glamour.
The lighting, designed by Natasha Chivers, is an integral part of the story from the opening scenes in which the searchlights pick out the Shelbys fighting at the front to the eery luminescence of an opium den.
Maybe the team are uncertain the audience will be able to follow the nuances of a story told in dance but the tale is helped along by narration, with the recorded voice of Benjamin Zephaniah, who plays Jeremiah Jesus in the television series.
The production is bold and shows us a part of the Peaky Blinders story we haven’t seen before. It has to be said that the narrative loses both pace and impact in the second half where we watch a drug-addled Tommy surrounded by fellow opium addicts. But at its close it comes back together and hits us with a stage filled with Peaky Blinders ready for action. Indeed you cannot help but wonder whether the team already have a sequel up their sleeves…
Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby is at Birmingham until 2 October, followed by a London premiere at Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre from 12 October to 6 November before embarking on a UK tour in 2023