It happens very rarely; but when it does, there are moments at the theatre that will stay with you for the rest of your life. I’ve been blessed with this ‘hair-standing-up-on-the-back-of-your-neck’ experience twice recently: last month, at Hamilton on Broadway; and last night much closer to home.
Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby at The Birmingham Hippodrome
When a ballet opens with the line “no phones, no photos and no fighting. By order of the f*cking Peaky Blinders” you know you’re in for one hell of a night. From the reverberating opening drum-beats to the five-minute standing ovation, Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby is nothing short of spectacular. I could so easily run out of superlatives, but I’ll throw a few your way … spellbinding, mesmerising, genius. How’s that for starters.
Creator Stephen Knight has worked hand in glove with Rambert Dance Creative Director Benoit Swan Pouffer to bring Small Heath’s big-time criminals to the stage, describing the production as “dance for people who didn’t like dance”. It’s a fitting partnership – Rambert was formed as the first British ballet company back in 1926 just as the Shelbys were raking in endless illegal earnings. The partnership goes deeper still, with dancers from the company appearing in Season 5 of the TV series to perform Swan Lake at Arrow House.
Starting in the explosive trenches of Flanders, we delve deeper into the backstory as the Shelby boys return to the metalworks of Birmingham. The trauma of war is raw and real, and narrator Benjamin Zephaniah tells us they are “dead, but still alive”. The traits from the series are here: Arthur (Conor Kerrigan) is as aggressive as ever; while Polly (the stunning Simone Damburg-Würtz) is seen to step back from her role of keeping the business alive as the men, shell-shocked from the battlefield, are back in charge.
Guillaume Quéau as Tommy Shelby is outstanding, and just like his on-screen counterpart Cillian Murphy I found it hard to take my eyes off him. His dark, shadowy character oozed a magnetic aura, most notably during Act 2 as we follow his dissent into opium addiction. Having lost his wife Grace (Naya Lovell) at the hands of widow Changretta (Aishwarya Raut) his world becomes chaotic and senseless, and every bit is writ-large on his face and in his movements. It’s heart-breaking to watch, but the grief is portrayed so beautifully.
It’s hard to choose stand-out scenes in an evening packed with nothing but stand-out scenes, but as the chilling opening chords of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Red Right Hand sound out and Tommy is flanked by family members, I felt my spine tingle. Occasionally the lighting catches a glint of razor blades sewn into their tweed caps and the thrill that ripples through the audience is palpable.
As fans expect, the production is filled with some of the most iconic songs from the series. These are juxtaposed with compositions by Roman GianArthur and played loud and live by Yaron Engler, James Douglas and The Last Morell under the musical direction of Yaron Engler. Costume Designer Richard Gellar has captured the essence of the 1920s perfectly, while the lighting Designer Natasha Chivers and set designer Moi Tran bring the show to life.
Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby runs at The Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday May 27. For more information and tickets, click here.