Peaky Blinders dance show: 'Anyone who likes Strictly can alove this'

By: News Desk
Published: 09:42 AM, 27 Sep, 2022
Peaky Blinders dance show: 'Anyone who likes Strictly can love this'
Caption: Peaky Blinders dance show: 'Anyone who likes Strictly can love this'
Source: Peaky Blinders dance show: \'Anyone who likes Strictly can love this\'
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"An independent dance company, dedicated to bringing dance to the people," declares Birmingham's best-known gangster Tommy Shelby in an episode from series five of the hit TV series Peaky Blinders.

Tommy is hosting a lavish birthday dinner at his country pile for his wife Lizzie with guests including fascist leader Oswald Mosley.

The gang leader introduces a performance of Swan Lake featuring dancers from renowned company Rambert, which captivates the majority of the audience but sends his brother and partner in crime Arthur to sleep.

Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight is confident no-one will be dozing off during his latest venture, a real-life dance show called Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby, again in collaboration with Rambert, but on a much bigger scale.

Having also worked with the London-based company on that TV episode and 2019's Peaky Blinders festival, Knight was keen to bring the dance experience to a new audience.

 

"I'm the least likely person to attend a dance show," he says. "And yet the experience I've had watching rehearsals... is absolutely fantastic. I really want to get that message out there that if you think you don't like dance, come and see the show and you'll find out that you do. Anyone who likes Strictly can love this show."

Knight explains that he wasn't a dance fan before Rambert got involved with the BBC TV series "simply because I'd never been", adding: "It's like going to your first football match and you go 'oh wow, it's brilliant'."

I'm curious to know how challenging it was to cast such iconic characters that are known to millions, particularly Cillian Murphy's Tommy.

"It's not about the physical aspects… you really need to understand who those characters are," Pouffer tells me.

"Who is Polly? Who is Jeremiah? Who is Arthur? Rambert is a company made up of individuals who can tell stories naturally and that was even before Peaky Blinders, so it was pretty easy to cast because I have strong personalities in the company. And it was very organic.

"Human beings are complex. Tommy Shelby is a complex man with a lot of layers of sensibility. He is not just a bandit. You understand the reason why he's acting that way, his struggle and his hurt," he continues.

"And through what Steven wrote us, it really pushes forward this dilemma that Tommy has in his head and in his life. Through the show, you will have this journey of understanding of what makes a Peaky Blinder and why Tommy Shelby has this redemption."

Four young dancers from the company landed the lead roles - Seren Williams and Prince Lyons will share the parts of Tommy and Grace with Guillaume Queau and Naya Lovell.

Williams says: "We're not necessarily copying and pasting what you see in the series, we're taking the mindset of the characters… and translating that into movement, so there's still similarities between them."

Lyons adds: "We have a lead who is a white male and I'm clearly not a white male!

"You are watching a different idea and it's kind of forcing you to view this world in a completely different light, the same way that a white Ariel [from The Little Mermaid] would look completely different to the new Ariel that's coming out. It's forcing you to use a bit of your imagination.

"The same way that if you were to read a book, if the author didn't fully describe what these characters look like, depending on who you are and who you grew up around, you make your own opinions based on what you've gone through and the culture around you."

He adds: "I just hope that audiences are able to view the beauty of our interpretation."

Knight has three things he would like the audience to come away with.

"I want them to have had a fantastic evening. I want them to be quite emotional at the end of it. And for them to go away thinking dance is something that they enjoy."

The show opens in Birmingham later this month. Knight smiles. "It can't be anywhere else." Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby premieres at the Birmingham Hippodrome on 27 September followed by a run at Wembley Park ahead of a UK tour next year.

Dance critic Lyndsey Winship says it can be difficult to attract new audiences to dance because of preconceptions: "So many people love to dance, or to watch dance on TV, but would never think of going to see a stage show. So something with a well-known title and story like Peaky Blinders is a good way of tempting them into the theatre.

"In the popular imagination, dance is still so often associated with ballet and Swan Lake and fairy tales, but the contemporary dance scene is so much more than that, and it's great if people's eyes can be opened to that."

The production begins as a prequel with the Shelby boys fighting in the trenches during World War One, but then it "takes us through into a very familiar story, and it's not giving too much away to say it's about Tommy and Grace", Knight explains. The pair's tragic romance will already be familiar to fans of the TV show.

Rambert's artistic director Benoit Swan Pouffer is the creative lead behind the production and is keen to point out that his interpretation is not just focused on the machismo of the leading male characters.

"When the young men went to the war, who ran the world? Who was doing the labour and working? Women," he says. "There's always a sense of that in the show. I wanted to put forward the strength of the woman as well. I have male and female and non-binary dancers."

Much of the story is told through dance and staging with no dialogue other than some narration courtesy of Benjamin Zephaniah, who plays Jeremiah in the BBC One series.

"It's a great challenge to try to tell a story without words. But fortunately, Benoit and Rambert are masters at it," Knight says.

"And so what I did was put some things down on paper and then handed it over to Benoit, he's crafted it and changed it and made it what it is now."

Pouffer adds that Knight "was surprised that I asked him to write a script, but that was my blueprint. Once I had this it was easier to... create the show because I was anchored in a good way with his vision."