Peaky Blinders – the Redemption of Thomas Shelby

Mar 2 2023 | By More

★★★★☆     Razor sharp

Festival Theatre: Tue 28 Feb – Sat 4 Mar 2023
Review by Suzanne O’Brien

Was there a need, desire or craving for a dance theatre version of hit TV show Peaky Blinders? Perhaps not. But Rambert Dance’s piece successfully plays on the show’s popularity to introduce new audiences to the world of dance.

It is making dance theatre more accessible, engaging and enjoyable and it will most certainly be gaining fans along the way.

Guillaume Quéau. Pic: Johan Persson

Rambert’s production, the Redemption of Thomas Shelby written by Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight, opens in the dark trenches of WW1 as a prequel to the television series, as it explores the lives of the notorious Birmingham street gang through dance theatre.

At its heart this is a simple love story between Thomas Shelby (Guillaume Quéau) and Grace (Naya Lovell), that it is dripping with temptation, seduction and violence.

The first act introduces the whole Shelby gang and gives a taste of their hectic and somewhat unconventional lives, as they assert their position through violence and enjoy the perks of society.

Under Benoit Swan Pouffer’s direction and choreography, the show gives everything you would want it to. In particular the slick, sophisticated, and epic group numbers which ooze style as the gang strut down Garrison Lane to Nick Cave’s iconic Red Right Hand that has become synonymous with the show. It is hard not to be wowed.

quite spectacular

It’s a mans world but it would be nothing without Aunt Polly Gray. Simone Damberg Würtz’s strength in the role of Polly is quite spectacular and, very much like the TV show, she is the vital cog in the Peaky Blinder’s machine. Her control of the Shelby family and her stage presence is that of someone you certainly wouldn’t want to mess with.

Naya Lovell and Guillaume Quéau. Pic: Johan Persson

The strength of the women is apparent throughout as they take on pivotal roles. Lovell’s Grace, is the perfect balance of strength, elegance, sophistication and power. With Pouffer’s direction, the partnering between Lovell and Queau’s complex Thomas Shelby, is seemingly effortless with tender storytelling that is almost breath-taking. The smooth choreography has a weightless feel and the moments of breath are used in a subtle and effective way.

Contrasting greatly to the non-stop explosiveness and energy of the first hour, the piece takes a sudden turn in the second act. The audience are invited into the inner workings of Thomas Shelby’s mind as he struggles with PTSD, drug use and loss, which is extremely heavy and trippy at times. It is unsurprising that within these difficult scenes, there is a slight emotional disconnect.

Visible throughout, the talented band made up of Yaron Engler, James Douglas and The Last Morrell provide a spectacular live soundtrack with a mix of vocals, drums, percussion, cello, and more. It drives the piece and it almost feels like a concert just as much as a dance theatre performance.

A scene from Peaky Blinders. Pic: Johan Persson

Recorded narration from Benjamin Zephaniah guides the audience at certain points, along with the occasional voices of the original TV cast including Helen McCrory, Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy. Although not essential to the understanding of the storyline, their incorporation is a real crowd pleaser.

The production retains the essence of the series but the blood and intense physical violence that dominates the original is limited to a degree. However, the fight scenes which do occur really pack a punch. It is also within these scenes where Moi Tran’s clever set design is used to full effect with its different levels and hidden sections.

As a fan, I was personally intrigued by how the story of the Shelby’s would transfer to a stage in dance form. I certainly couldn’t picture Cillian Murphy dancing in the dark streets of Birmingham along with the rest of the gang but Rambert dance make it work, in quite a spectacular way.

Running time: Two hours and 15 minutes (including one interval)
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT
Tue 28 Feb – Sat 4 March 2023
Evenings: 7.30pm, Sat mat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

A scene from Peaky Blinders. Pic: Johan Persson


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Comments (2)

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  1. Linda Bell says:

    Was a great show fantastic dancing from all members of the cast but the amputee was fantastic so impressed.

  2. Kirstie Skinner says:

    Totally agree! I thought it was going to be tricky to pull off but Rambert managed to avoid pastiche, and even enrich the original version. With great pomp and performance, coupled with storytelling and subtlety, it was an unexpectedly emotional night!