Long coats, floppy flat caps, watch chains, sharp suits and starched collars – in the nine years since its first airing, Peaky Blinders, has grown beyond a TV show to become a fashion iconography. All of which is front and centre in the design of Rambert Dance’s choreographic realisation of the Thomas Shelby story, and provides an immediate and distinct unifying visual signature.
Beyond this, the dancers movements catch the show’s violent aesthetic, serving narrow boat loads of macho swagger: men constantly flexing and clicking their joints in readiness for the next pugilistic bout and, of course, the actual fist, boot and cap-swinging action itself.
Initially this all seems very cool and then a bit samey, and it could become a little wearing. Fortunately the production is punctuated with big set pieces that mix up the colours of the chorographic palette. A lush party scene, full of decadent, thoroughly queer, between-the-wars detail, which fuses early jazz and contemporary dance moves to stylish effect. A tragicomic horse racing scene, where fairground horses stand in for the real thing. Visually stunning. This has men literally betting the shirts on their backs and walking away in underwear. And then, a delicate pas de deux provides a mask for cynicism and duplicity.
The show looks great and is positively crowded with imaginative design, and fresh, engaging dance energy. There is a problem at its heart, however: why should we care about any of the deeply unlikable characters on display? Perhaps those who know the TV show can superimpose their knowledge of it onto this stage version? For those unfamiliar, sympathetic engagement with this crew of borderline psychopaths is a bit of a stretch.
As though to get around this, the show makes a big attempt to mythologise things . A portentous voice-over from Birmingham poet Benjamin Zephaniah keeps telling us ‘And so it came to pass…’ as though we are in the middle of some sort of sword-and-sandal epic. The programme notes describe the second act as ‘Thomas Shelby in the Underworld.’ If the reference to Orpheus here weren’t strong enough, the depiction of Thomas’ opium hell and opium high draws clearly on that hero’s descent into Hades and sojourn in the Elysian Fields as represented in Gluck’s opera on the subject.
However, the Shelbys are not mythical Demi Gods. They’re just a family of exceptionally violent robber barons so, at the end of the day, we are left with the triumph of style over substance. However, the style is so very stylish that it’s a pretty spectacular triumph.
GUILLAUME QUÉAU – THOMAS SHELBY / FACTORY FOREMEN & ENSEMBLEPRINCE LYONS – JEREMIAH / THOMAS SHELBY
NAYA LOVELL – GRACE BURGESS / ENSEMBLE
SEREN WILLIAMS – ENSEMBLE / GRACE BURGESS
BENJAMIN ZEPHANIAH – NARRATOR/JEREMIAH (RECORDED)
ADÉL BÁLINT – ADA / ENSEMBLE
AISHWARYA RAUT – WIDOW CHANGRETTA / ENSEMBLE
ALEX SOULLIERE – ENSEMBLE / JEREMIAH
ANGÉLIQUE BLASCO – ENSEMBLE / MS CHANGRETTA
ANTONELLO SANGIRARDI – CHANGRETTA & ENSEMBLE / ENSEMBLE
ARCHIE WHITE – ENSEMBLE / JOHN
CAITÍ CARPENTER – ENSEMBLE / POLLY & ENSEMBLE
CALI HOLLISTER – ENSEMBLE / ADA
CONOR KERRIGAN – ARTHUR / ENSEMBLE
DYLAN TEDALDI – FACTORY FOREMEN & ENSEMBLE / ARTHUR
JONATHAN WADE – ENSEMBLE / BARNEY
JOSEPH KUDRA – JOHN / ENSEMBLE
MAX DAY – ENSEMBLE
SIMONE DAMBERG WÜRTZ – POLLY / ENSEMBLE
MUSA MOTHA – BARNEY / BARNEY & ENSEMBLE
JAMES DOUGLAS – CELLO / BASS / VOCALS
THE LAST MORRELL – VOCALS, GUITAR, KEYS
STEVEN KNIGHT CBE – WRITER
BENOIT SWAN POUFFER – CHOREOGRAPHER / DIRECTOR
ROMAN GIANARTHUR – COMPOSER & MUSIC SUPERVISOR
MOI TRAN – SET DESIGNER
NATASHA CHIVERS -LIGHTING DESIGNER
RICHARD GELLAR – COSTUME DESIGNER
YARON ENGLER – MUSICAL DIRECTOR
KAITE O’REILLY – DRAMATURG / NARRATION DIRECTOR
FILIPE J. CARVALHO – ILLUSIONS DIRECTOR
ADRIAN DERRICK-PALMER – FIGHT DIRECTOR
YARIT DOR -INTIMACY DIRECTOR
D.J. WALDE – MUSIC CONSULTANT
KIM PEARCE – ACTING DIRECTOR