Writer: Katie Lyons
Director: Tom Maller
‘Pack ‘em in’ seems to be the motto of Immersive Everywhere, the company behind the interactive Peaky Blinders currently playing in Camden Market. Any fun to be had with the now-legendary Shelby family is difficult when there are another 249 people trying to do the same thing. With bars popping up at every turn, the production seems little more than a moneymaking enterprise.
Of course, greed for money directly reflects the ambitions of the Shelbys, the criminal family living in 1920s/30s Birmingham that is at the centre of the BBC’s hit series. Dealing in arms and contraband whiskey, the family led by Cillian Murphy’s Tommy, is always keen to extend its empire. This immersive stand-alone story featuring the major characters is about the conquest of London.
Most of the action takes place in a pub called the Camden Garrison. At the start the audience is led in sections into the old-fashioned saloon type bar, and by paying extra you can enter the space earlier, but there’s little to do here. You can buy a drink, or listen to a few characters rushing around shouting that Tommy is on his way. Someone sings a song. More rushing round announcing the imminent arrival, but not before new audience members arrive. Everyone is talking. Actors try to draw people into the pub’s smaller rooms, but it’s hard to hear them.
Tommy’s arrival, to the anachronistic sound of The White Stripes’ Seven Army Nation, is probably the most exciting part of the evening. He’s like royalty and is presented as such. Craig Hamilton exudes the dangerous charm of the gangland boss rather well, and looks the part in his suit made especially by Moss Bros. His nervy, overwrought brother Arthur is smoothly played by Kieran Mortell, his excitement just as potent as Tommy’s coolness. They both have quite fabulous haircuts.
After Tommy’s fashionably late arrival, there’s promise that the show will start in earnest, but following a bit of dancing and the uncovering of another bar, this one selling bramble cocktails, we’re left to our own devices. You may get caught up in a trade union strike, or you may be asked to deliver some cash to the betting office, but little comes of these tasks. If you’re lucky you might be escorted to a hidden upstairs space, which, of course, has its own bar. Or you could go to the shop and buy a flat cap for £30, although they are probably a lot cheaper in Camden Market.
Peaky Blinders: The Rise is not the first immersive show based on Birmingham gangs coming down to London. Back in 2020, COLAB produced Crooks 1926 in a pub in Elephant and Castle, the home of the most notorious mob in London. Here the audience was much smaller and everyone was given plenty to do as they thwarted gang boss Sabini’s attempts to take the city. Secret missions and set pieces made for a thrilling evening.
Sabini also is name checked in The Rise and we are instructed to be on the look-out for shifty Italians. But there are too many people in the space – it seems hard to believe that there were once 280 people thronging Camden Garrison in early previews before Immersive Everywhere cut numbers. And with some audience members dressing up, it’s not always easy to discover the actors. It’s directed by Tom Maller, who also directed the equally overcrowded Dr Who: Time Fracture, and both privilege style over story. Parts of Rebecca Brower’s design are in perfect symphony with the TV series, but they don’t make up for the lack of narrative drive.
If you want to have more to do and have more interaction with the actors you can pay for it by buying a VIP ticket that gives you a badge to wear. You will also have access to your own VIP room in the Camden Garrison. This capitalistic approach to immersive theatre is more mercenary than the antics of the Shelbys themselves.
Booking to 12 February 2023