Peaky Blinders : The Redemption of Thomas Shelby – Royal and Derngate, Northampton

Reviewer: Joe Longden

Music: Roman GianArthur and Nate Wonder

Writer: Steven Knight CBE

Director and choreographer: Benoit Swan Pouffer

How does one bring a sense of majesty and beauty to a story such as the Peaky Blinders? A story of death and destruction, of love and loss and of greed and grief, so filled with hardships that the thought of breaking into dance seems ludicrous. The Rambert Dance Group manages it and then some, with wonder and spectacle oozing out of every inch of the stage, every second of the music and every movement of the dancers.

Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby tells the story of the Shelby brothers, Tommy, Arthur, and John who return from serving in the War lost and broken, in need of something to live for which they find on the streets of Birmingham as a ruthless street gang wrapped up in the violent but profitable underworld of post-war Britain. The show is very much a tale of two halves: Act One establishes the brothers and their accomplices as troubled former soldiers described by the narrator as alive in body only; Act Two documents Tommy’s descent into misery, his struggles with drugs and his eventual titular redemption.

Key to this performance is the dancers themselves with not a word spoken between them, but a story filled to the brim with emotion conveyed through their every movement. Joseph Kudra as Thomas Shelby is a standout, whether dancing with the love of his life or fighting his inner demons as he battles drug abuse, you are unable to look away as his ability to bring movement to life grabs you by the scruff of the neck and doesn’t let go. Simone Damberg-Wurtz’s performance as Polly is equally scene-stealing as she commands the stage with power woven with grace and beauty to match: it is hard to look anywhere else on a stage constantly full of wonderful performances. Dylan Tedaldi and Archie White as the two other Shelby brothers, Arthur and John respectively, deserve recognition also, they may have taken a backseat to brother Tommy at times but their talent is still present in spades and the connection between the three dancers throughout could fool you into thinking they truly are brothers: you can feel the love and respect they have for each other and see the desire to protect each other at the slightest provocation.

Behind the dancers is a crew of immeasurable talent whose every choice and action transforms this performance into a masterpiece. Director and choreographer Benoit Swan Pouffer has taken the writing of Steven Knight and transformed it into a flowing and emotionally rich performance that wonderfully balances the melancholic themes of death and loss with the excitement of gambling and fighting, aided by Adrian Derrick-Palmer as the show’s fighting director whose use of slow motion in his extended fight sequences is a joy to watch.

Another highlight of this performance is the use of the set and atmosphere. The stage is multi-layered with hidden troughs that the performers can drop into or emerge from. There is a plethora of smoke machines that rapidly cover parts of the entire stage and allows for performers to be obscured until they breach the smoke and appear centre stage. It is this hide-and-reveal that is so impressive to watch and try and keep track of. Using the smoke and the layers of the stage, the scene can go from completely empty to full of life in mere seconds. Moi Tran, the set designer, aided by the efforts of Natasha Chivers and Filipe J. Carvalho the lighting and illusion designers respectively, deserves high praise for being able to provide such a scene upon which the performers can amaze.

The final key component of this performance is the music, much of which is original music by Roman GianArthur the show’s composer but mixed in are tracks by familiar bands such as the Last Shadow Puppets and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. The soundtrack itself is impressive but hearing it performed live alongside the dancers is nothing short of magnificent, you feel every beat of the drums and every word of the vocals. The band of Yaron Engler, James Douglas and The Last Morrell truly add the final piece to this incredible puzzle.

Whether you are a fan of the TV show or not, Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby is an unmissable evening of entertainment, an enrapturing performance from the first minute and with a soundtrack that you will be humming to yourself for days afterwards.

By order of the Peaky Blinders, we suggest you go and see this performance.

Runs until: 25 February 2023 and on tour

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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