Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Mary Brennan

Four stars

Conflict – physical or broodingly internalised – can be a useful tool in creating a dramatic dance piece. And conflict can be a compellingly good look when – as in the case of Rambert – there are dancers who can shift from swift ensemble athleticism to sensual languor or repressed emotional upheavals in the twitch of a hip.

On-stage, in Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby, Rambert’s artistic director, the choreographer Benoit Swan Pouffer, has taken full advantage of the dancers’ versatility – and while devotees of the highly successful TV series will still cherish that original version, there is much to savour, enjoy and applaud in this specially contrived ‘prequel’.

HeraldScotland: Rambert's Peaky BlindersRambert's Peaky Blinders (Image: free)

Like the television drama, Rambert’s dance piece has been scripted by Steven Knight – his unenviable task being to compress elements of the first four series into just two acts. The first half sees Tommy and his Shelby kin caught up in the closing battles of World War One, their unswerving heroics in trench war morphing into the callous brutality of a turf war when they get home to Birmingham.

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Simply put: you keep fighting and killing to survive, and Pouffer’s choreography – driven by the loud, thumping rhythms of a live band on-stage – is packed with rushes of adrenalin and swaggering, macho movement. Guillaume Quéau (as Tommy) is master of every twist, turn and sinuous stretch – he even manages to make Tommy’s bouts of despair after his beloved Grace is killed seem plausible.

This opium-infused Act Two nonetheless has a slow, creepy feel that seems overly protracted, so it’s a relief when we come full circle, back to what the Peaky Blinders do best – fight to win! Remarkable dancing from amputee Musa Motha is beyond awe-some, but actually the whole company are in impressive form in a spectacular production that hopes to attract new audiences for dance.