In search of redemption. Pictures: Johan Persson

Peaky Blinders:

the Redemption of Thomas Shelby

Birmingham Hippodrome


A must see, by order of the Peaky Blinders

Peaky Blinders is such an iconic show that it was with a mixture of giddy excitement and utter dread that I headed to Birmingham Hippodrome to watch the Rambert contemporary dance production of Peaky Blinders: the Redemption of Thomas Shelby. The  production was  returning to the city of its birth after a national tour.

I love the show and was intrigued to see what the production would entail and the aforementioned dread was because I feared the production might be a bit – well, pants. How could the production possibly look to take that style and swagger and transfer it to the stage - let alone within a contemporary dance production?

I was interested to read an interview with the show’s composer, the talented Roman GianArthur, in which he said that for Steven Knight – the overlord of all things Peaky - the music was either Peaky or it’s not. There were no half measures, no middle ground – a piece of music either worked for the show or it didn’t.

It’s a fascinating take on Thomas Shelby’s world and throws into view the biggest problems which the live show has to overcome.  

How to bottle the magnetism of the TV cast and replicate the aura and familiarity of a collective that has grown together to form such an epic collective?

Added to that, without the backdrop of the industrial landscape and deep growling Brummy accent, how would the audience anchor themselves within the Peaky landscape.

It would either work or it wouldn’t and I couldn’t honestly tell you what I expected as I settled into my seat. 


Grace (Naya Lovell) and Thomas Shelby (Guillaume Quéau)

What greeted me was . . . unexpected.

I expected the aesthetic. From the off, the production had the style and the swagger of the show. The atmospheric lighting and clever staging really grabbed you, never once feeling like a tired pastiche.

What surprised me most was just how immersive it was - you entered the world, but not like I feared you might – as you would entering a gaudy theme park. No, instead you were invited into it slowly, like a magic garden, or a door in a certain wardrobe. Gently and unsuspectingly you crept into this world and before you knew it, it enveloped you - just like the fog and smoke and smell of gunpowder enveloped the audience.

Dance was not really a foundation within the Peaky Blinders world, one of the notable exceptions being the swan lake scene in series 5, itself directed by this production’s choreographer & director Beniot Swan Pouffer (the scene was written after Knight had loved a dance piece Pouffer had written for the Peaky Blinders Festival in 2019).

Here though, dance adds an extra dimension - a degree of vulnerability which you can’t delve into with TV. The connection with the moment, with the dancers and their fluidity is a personal thing which is peculiar to live theatre.

The dancers are all breathtakingly good and manage to inhabit the characters without being shackled by them. Guillaume Queau is an excellent Thomas Shelby, with the right blend of strength and weakness and his love affair with Grace, played by the superb Naya Lovell is a thing of real beauty and tenderness. All credit must go to Intimacy director, Yarit Dor,for her role in achieving something so sensual without making it titillating and therefore cheapening it.

trio shelby

Centre trio of Center  Jeremiah (Prince Lyons), Barney (Musa Motha) and John (Joseph Kudra)

There is an inclusivity and freeness to the casting which gives it an identity away from the show from which it was borne. Where there must have been temptations to try and copy mannerisms or looks from original characters, they have been resolutely ignored. This story is its own and it is all the better for it.

Special mention must go to Musa Motha, who plays Barney and is nothing short of mesmerising in his performance – his ability to dance on crutches was something to behold.

The wardrobes by costume designer Richard Gellar and his team are eye wateringly beautiful, each of the 1500 costumes and accessories, elevating the action on stage.

Moi Tran’s set, Natasha Chivers lighting and Filipe J Carvalho’s illusions are integral to this Peaky world. The atmosphere they create crackles with energy and never once makes you yearn for a more traditional set.

Overall the production has a real collaborative feel to it,– even down to the programme, which gives credit to all members of the team,  mentioning the different elements of costume, different teams and the different directors. Everyone is an important part of the Peaky Blinders team. On that note, special mention must go to fight director Adrian Derrick-Palmer who produced some truly captivating fight scenes which managed to harness violence of emotion as well as action. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen better fight scenes on stage.

One thing better suited to stage than screen was the musical element of Peaky Blinders. With a live band consisting of Yaron Engler, James Douglas and The Last Morrell, they were integral to the power of the piece. With a mixture of music from Nick Cave and the bad seeds, BRMC and Laura Mvula to name a few, plus original composition from Roman GianArthur it was a feast for the ears, eyes and soul.

Some will baulk at the show - some will say it misses the developed characters, the swearing and the scheming or the emotive dialogue (though peppered throughout is dialogue from the show and the dulcet brummie tones of Benjamin Zephaniah). To those that criticise, I would suggest that they may be missing the point.

This is not a stage version of Peaky Blinders; it is Peaky Blinders within a parallel universe. Indeed, I would be intrigued to hear what someone thought of the show had they never seen Peaky Blinders? I suspect they would love it as much as a fan, maybe even more as for the first time they would experience the world of Thomas Shelby. For me, my only slight negative was a result of my grounding in the show – I found that occasionally it intruded upon the experience as I tried to tally characters with the TV show instead of just enjoying what was playing out on stage. 

Peaky Blinders, the redemption of Thomas Shelby is at Birmingham Hippodrome until the 27th of May. With tickets from £25, there is a BSL interpreted performance on the 25th and a caption and audio described performance on the matinee on the 27th. Buy your tickets here.

So in answer to the question – is it Peaky or not. The answer is a resounding yes. This show provides an opportunity for those who like Peaky Blinders to experience contemporary dance and for those who like contemporary dance to appreciate Peaky Blinders – what could be more Thomas Shelby than straddling two completely different worlds yet fitting effortlessly into each.

Theo Clarke


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