‘Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby’ review: an intoxicating stage show

Rambert Dance’s stage show reimagining of the Shelby clan brings rock 'n' roll and revelations to the roaring ‘20s

The lights dim and we’re taken immediately back to the dark and fetid trenches of the First World War. Soldiers jerk and howl like corpses freshly strung out on barbed wire as they battle a shadowy enemy. You can almost taste the chaos and anxiety as we’re introduced to our old friends: Tommy Shelby, his brother Arthur and their comrades in the Peaky Blinders. In the throes of battle they fight, maim and scalp for survival. When the time comes to be sent home, a narrator tells us how they’re all beyond God’s judgement because in soul and spirit they’re dead already. Now, they’re “free to do whatever they fucking please”.

Penned by Peaky creator Steven Knight with choreography and direction from Benoit Swan Pouffer, the world-renowned Rambert Dance company’s reimagining of Tommy and the Blinders’ plight plays out all of the show’s sex, violence and torment in the most physical way possible. This is the most immersive and intoxicating way to experience Knight’s now timeless story.

The first half sees them return to Birmingham to kick up a ruckus and go on the romp, and the second deals with the eternal mental scarring caused by war and a life of fighting – seeking peace amid the chaos and life over death. What does Tommy need to do to find his way to the light?

Narrated by poet and Peaky star Benjamin Zephaniah, The Redemption Of Tommy Shelby sees some particularly impressive star turns. We get Guillaume Quéau in the titular role, Naya Lovell as his true love Grace, Simone Damberg Würtz as Aunt Polly and amputee Musa Motha as his army bud and gangmate. You’d never see a real Blinder pirouette through fear of being done in, but this cast carry the true essence of the characters in all of their gritty glory with a very moving and convincing grace.

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Rambert's Peaky Blinders The Redemption of Thomas Shelby. Credit: Johan Persson
Rambert’s ‘Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby’. Credit: Johan Persson

Then there’s the music – and oh boy; it’s worth the ticket price alone. Hats off to the live band for so effortlessly delivering a banger-stuffed soundtrack featuring Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, Radiohead, Anna Calvi and of course Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – adding some real rock ’n’ roll to the roaring ‘20s.

We won’t give away too much of the plot, but you’ll be quite flabbergasted by the scene in which hellish police dogs give chase to a cornered Tommy. Then there’s the emotional merry-go-round of the races – a real visual feast, and the transformation of the stage into a glitzy nightclub which will have you reaching for your spats and flappers. It must be said that the second half lags a little in comparison to all the raucous debauchery of the first. The latter’s scenes of Tommy’s drug-addled anguish proving a little drawn-out and bewildering, but then again perhaps that’s the point? You do feel his pain.

The TV series may be done and dusted, but it’s impossible to escape. There are Peaky clothing lines, booze brands, and themed bars out there. We’ve had the music festival, and there’s a movie on the way. You’ve got until November 6 to catch it at London’s Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre (nice enough but impossible to get served during the interval, which isn’t very Peaky) then the show will be heading out on a full UK tour in 2023. Catch it while you can – by order of the Peaky Blinders.

Rambert’s Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby is at Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre until November 6, followed by a UK tour in 2023. Visit here for tickets and more information. 

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