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Peaky Blinders

by on 15 October 2022

Punchy Pithy Peaky

Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby

by Benoit Swan Pouffer and Stephen Knight

Rambert Productions at the Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre, Wembley until 6th November, then on tour until 27th May 2023

Review by Katie Hagan

Rambert’s Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby swept into the capital last week to open its London run at Wembley’s Troubadour Theatre.  Created by Rambert’s artistic director Benoit Swan Pouffer together with Peaky Blinders’ originator Stephen Knight, Britain’s oldest dance company has produced a spectacle of dance, music and spoken word that’s a brilliant riff off the BBC’s popular series. 

Opening at the bleaker-than-bleak tail-end of World War One, Rambert’s Peaky Blinders follows the trials and tribulations of antihero Tommy Shelby (played by the beautifully broody Guillaume Quéau), on his redemptive journey from a physically and mentally war-torn shell of a man, to gangster, lover, addict and back to gangster again.  

After we meet Tommy and his band of brothers – who are frenetic livewires after being subjected to trench warfare – the scene changes to the Peaky’s Brummy homeland in a metalwork factory where a grim foreman is exploiting workers left, right and centre.  Rambert’s lithe dancers come out to play here, swooping and swinging across Moi Tran’s set which is the perfect playground for the Peaky’s antics.  The choreography is commercial and jazzy; teeming with sky-high front and back kicks, nimble Fosse-inspired forward-facing sequences and a standout performance by amputee dancer Musa Motha. 

From the exploitation of factory workers, we descend into the Peaky microcosm of shootouts, gang violence and manipulation.  Tommy and his gang swagger about the place, at one point bowling into the crowd.  Planting the dancers into the audience to stretch the performance space was a clever idea that brought us into the furore – and made the innocent audience feel somewhat complicit in the gang’s robbery.  

Rambert’s ambition with this show is clear and unapologetically so.  There are so many big moments in the first half.  We have a day at the races and numerous glamorous club scenes, where Tommy meets his belle, Grace.  Performed by Naya Lovell, this is a Grace who is knowingly sultry and unfoolish, transforming the cool, unperturbed Tommy into a puppy-eyed lover. 

Although star-crossed romances move notoriously quickly, Tommy and Grace’s wedding arrives a little abruptly.  Up until this point, the audience hasn’t seen enough of their relationship, meaning that when Grace is suddenly killed by a vengeful rival gang wife – played by Aishwarya Raut – the audience aren’t as moved by her death as perhaps hoped. 

After the interval, the second half opens on a clandestine opium den where Tommy lies smoking his ghosts away.  They’ve all caught up on poor Tommy at this point; the people he’s killed on and off the battlefield, and of course the shocking loss of Grace.  This half does seem to blur into one as we spend a lot of time on Tommy’s opium-induced downward spiral, but the choreography, thumping live music by American composer Roman GianArthur and Benjamin Zephaniah’s pithy spoken word keep you compelled. 

After more twists, turns and hazy movement sequences, Tommy’s redemption starts to appear on the horizon.  The audience get the moment they’ve been expecting as Tommy indeed returns to his chilly gangster ways after a member of his clan is killed, and Aunt Polly (previously more of a pacifier) played by Simone Damberg Würtz turns to vengeful violence.  Fiercely loyal to their family, Rambert’s devilish Peaky Blinders go steaming ahead for the show’s final hurrah; the music and choreography returning to the punchy commercial style in the first half to end on a high.

Katie Hagan, October 2022

Photography by Johan Persson

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