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Review: Peaky Blinders – The Redemption of Thomas Shelby at The Lowry is “hauntingly beautiful”

When you imagine the Peaky Blinders, you probably think of flat caps, shouting, swearing, violence and drinking.

While this show has all of that, Rambert brings Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby into a whole new dimension through the element of dance. The hit TV show which has been airing since 2013 was so popular, it’s no surprise it has now taken over the Lowry Theatre.

The dance show is written and adapted for the stage by the creator of Peaky Blinders, Stephen Knight and impeccably choreographed and directed by Rambert’s Artistic Director Benoit Swan Pouffer.

The soundtrack is provided by a live on-stage band who are obscured by smoke, but the musicians are led by Musical Director Yaron Engler and a score written by Roman GianArthur can be heard even at the very back of the room. The electric guitars almost vibrate through the floor during tense scenes.

The opening number ‘Last Breath as a Free Man’ by Roman GianArthur hooked the audience. A lone figure playing what looked like an electric cello looped the stage slowly, practically ghostly, as figures emerged from the stage. They almost levitate up from the floor. The dancers can now be seen, wearing dusty army uniforms, they stand to attention as a whistle blows, and you realise they’re escaping the trenches of World War One.

This is when you’re introduced to the now world-famous Thomas Shelby, and the Peaky Blinders. With just the use of live music, dance, and narration by Benjamin Zephaniah, Rambert brings this show to life.

The Peaky Blinders are made up of Thomas, Arthur, Barney, John and Jeremiah; and are overseen by strong female leaders, Polly and Ada.

While the men were busy at war, the ladies had grown their own horse racing and betting empire. A rotating illuminated carousel top hangs above the stage as the dancers wheel out carousel horses which they use as props to climb all over. Meanwhile, others push them across the stage into punters cheering and waving money, hoping their horse wins.

The men return and the noise and chatter that accompanied the betting turn into the iconic ‘Red Right Hand’ by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. The stage is transformed with a backdrop of gold streamers and lights, as the dancers emerge for a traditional Peaky party. Incredible costumes, a lot of drinking and a little bit of fighting. This is where you truly see the diversity of this entire cast. As the ensemble strut onto the stage, there are female presenting dancers in traditionally male suits, masculine performers in short sequin leotards, and dancers from all different backgrounds and ethnicities. You even see what looks like two ladies sharing a meaningful kiss at the back of the stage.

Thomas Shelby, played by Guillaume Quéau’s use of strength and facial expression to show the weakness of grief and loss of control during the entire performance was incredible to watch. For the first half of the performance, he was the strong male lead, and while still carrying the weight of the story on his shoulders, you saw the cracks beginning to form.

The story centres around Tommy and Grace falling for one another, but almost like star-crossed lovers, Grace is working for the enemy. Tommy is jovial and his movements fluid, running from the police and their dogs, personified by the dancers in leather masks.

He lifts Grace away from danger with ease as if she is weightless. After the interval and the loss of his beloved wife Grace, played by Naya Lovell, he is a tormented soul and you witness his downfall as he writhes around on stage.

The story follows his journey through grief and how he managed to overcome his opium addiction. The harrowing scenes where he is trapped in his mind and body are expertly choreographed and performed by the Rambert Companies dancers.

While the entire ensemble performed impeccably, one dancer who stood out for all the right reasons was Musa Motha, playing Barney. His solo was breathtaking. Wearing stark white ripped shorts and using a white crutch while the stage was dimly lit, made the whole audience fall silent as all eyes were on him.

Petals fell from the ceiling as he used his solo to show his lifelong friend Tommy what sheer determination could do. Musa dances on just one leg and uses crutches to aid his balance, never once looking as if he is struggling. Watching him dance is breathtaking as every move looks effortless.

It wouldn’t be Peaky Blinders without some gritty fight scenes and bloodshed.

While they weren’t as violent as some you might have seen on TV, they were still incredibly dramatic. The use of the stage, with dancers falling down the gaps and running on and off from the wings portrayed the chaos of a street fight. The dancers lift each other and fall in slow motion, leaving the audience hanging on every punch and kick.

The control they have over their movements is what stops the whole scene from looking messy. Pistols fire and the crack echoes around the auditorium, with sparks flying from the prop. I wouldn’t get too attached to certain characters, the harsh reality of gang violence still exists in the theatre.

Overall the show is hauntingly beautiful. Each dancer holds their own on stage while collaborating effortlessly, their energies bouncing off one another as they tell the whole story without ever speaking.

If you’re a fan of The Peaky Blinders, theatre or you just want to experience something incredible, this is the one for you. When something so popular is translated into another medium it’s hard not to compare it to the original, however, this stands alone and can be understood by a wide range of audiences, even if you haven’t got a clue who Thomas Shelby is.

By order of The Peaky Blinders, go and book your tickets now.

You can get them by clicking here.

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