By: Cathryn Macey, TRP Reviewer
Peaky Blinders is Birmingham’s biggest export since Cadbury but what will a Plymouth audience think of Tommy Shelby swaggering around the stage in Rambert Dance’s new adaptation of the show? A significant amount of tonight’s lively crowd arrive in flat caps and waist coats hoping that a combination of ballet shoes and guns is a winning one. And it most definitely is.
Billed as a prequel to the first series, Peaky Blinders focuses on the messy life of notorious gang leader Tommy Shelby (Guillame Quea) as he meets and falls in love with secret agent Grace (Naya Lovell).
Any gaps in audience knowledge are filled in by Benjamin Zephaniah who loosely narrates (through a pre-recorded voice over) an inventive series of dance arrangements that tell the story of the couples’ complicated romance. Not for the faint hearted, the stage erupts into a volcano of smoke and sequins as the dancers and musicians explore Shelby’s formative life. From enduring the front line in WW1 to enjoying the delights of the roaring twenties, the first act is a loud, riotous celebration of everything that has catapulted this award-winning story into our collective consciousness.
The music often takes centre stage and sometimes you feel like you’re at a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club gig. ….which is no bad thing, especially if you enjoy live music. Replicating the series’ penchant for Nick Cave, Radiohead and The White Stripes, Roman Gianarthur leads a range of talented musicians, including The Last Morrell and James Douglas, to produce one of the most powerful live scores for a contemporary dance show you will ever hear. It is hard to overstate the importance of music to the show; it’s the life blood that enthrals every member of the audience and provides the soundtrack to the peaks and troughs of Tommy’s past.
And it isn’t just the heavy pulsating rock music during chaotic yet carefully choreographed bar room brawls that is important…. In fact, some of the production’s most moving movements occur when the musicians play traditional Irish or Classical music. This mish mash of styles leads to an array of different types of dances – from traditional duets featuring Grace and Tommy to absurd and clever forms of physical theatre. The ensembles’ collective talent for this contemporary form of dance is showcased best when the gang, dressed as soldiers, convulse and stagger like zombies in and out of the trenches of Flanders fields. Their shell-shocked expressions and movements say it all. WW1 is hell and they will do anything to escape it.
Act 2 is centred around Tommy’s chosen method for escape, opium. Knight (Peaky Blinder’s creator) and Benoit Swan Pouffer (Rambert Dance’s choreographer/director) never glorify drug use but in the hazy second half we see both the highs and lows of addiction. Soft, soothing music and classical balletic movements communicate the beauty of Tommy’s existence when he is riding high on opiates. Poppies gently fall from the sky and Tommy is blissfully happy; finally free from the demons from his past until the music abruptly cuts, the dancers all disappear, and he is left in the dark faced with two choices – to live or die.
Thankfully for Peaky Blinders fans, the performance ends on a sober high as the whole ensemble get together to leer and scowl at the audience whilst Nick Cave’s iconic “Red Right Hand” blasts out. Their faces and the audiences’ standing ovation say it all…. this show is a hit and, like Tommy, it’s here to stay.