The world of Thomas Shelby and Peaky Blinders has been reimagined for the stage as a dance performance reveals the trauma that created the characters of the acclaimed TV series.
Written by original series creator Steven Knight, the official show’Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby‘ hit the stage in London as part of a UK tour that culminates in races at the Peaky Blinders house in Birmingham.
Knight’s series has been a smash hit since its BBC debut in 2013. Following the infamous Peaky Blinders gang in 1920s Birmingham, an all-star cast led by Cillian Murphy captured the attention of audiences around the world. as his ragtag team’s empire spanned six wins. seasons.
Adapting a show that spanned six seasons, spanning over a decade and multiple continents is no easy task. Turning this adaptation into a dance performance is even more daunting.
It is therefore fortunate that Knight entrusted the work to Rambertone of Britain’s oldest and boldest dance companies.
It’s the first time Rambert has taken on a project of this scale for a television adaptation, but after working with Knight on a festival and one of the show’s episodes, it was a natural fit.
“It was very important to me that Steven was on board. It’s because all these characters, this universe of Peaky Blinders came from his imagination”, explains Benoit Swan Pouffer, artistic director of Rambert and choreographer and director. a spectacle.
A prequel to carnage
‘Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby’ goes back to where it all began. Opening in the trenches of World War I, the dramatic spectacle gets right into the heart of the violent beginnings that created the iconic Shelby family.
“The screenplay that Steven wrote gave me the opportunity to immerse myself in the work, in these characters, in this world and through a prequel, allowed me to understand why they are and who they are,” explains Pouffer. .
The TV show begins in 1919 in the aftermath of the war.
“When I read the script, I felt very privileged because no one had read it and it’s not an interpretation. It was actually the man who created these characters who wrote the original series », Fans of Pouffer.
Knight had created a scripted script of about 60 to 70 pages, and from there Pouffer could create a dance theater performance. Pouffer thinks dance is the perfect way to tell this story. Despite the complexity of the show’s storyline, the struggles at the heart of the show – love and loss – are perfectly suited for dancing.
“These themes are universal,” says Pouffer. “Dance, you don’t need to speak my language to understand how I feel. If I move my body or speak very loudly, body language may say something, but your behavior says something else. And it’s very revealing.
The contradiction between intention and action is at the heart of the character of Tommy Shelby. This is both what makes audiences fascinated by him and also why he is a ripe choice for a character in a dance theater performance.
Tommy is played by Guillaume Quéau and Prince Lyons for the run, with both actors bringing something unique and different from Cillian Murphy’s iconic portrayal.
When asked, Pouffer didn’t consider trying to fill Murphy’s boots or his flat cap. “It would be a real failure,” he said. “He’s an incredible artist.”
“But we’re playing a role, and that role is Tommy Shelby,” not Cillian Murphy, Pouffer explains. Instead, both Quéau and Lyons created two radically different visions of the character and who he is. Pouffer also performed two Graces, with Naya. Lovell and Seren Williams reinterpret the role made famous by Annabelle Wallis.
“The goal wasn’t to reincarnate Murphy or Wallis — it was really to get the character’s DNA and figure them out,” Pouffer said.
A killer soundtrack
Bringing the world of Peaky Blinders to the stage wasn’t just the work of Pouffer’s excellent directing and choreographic skills. Knight and Rambert brought together the vocal skills of series regular Benjamin Zephaniah, to contribute a voiceover as part of the show’s soundtrack.
Handling the rest of the soundtrack was the responsibility of Roman GianArthur. The singer, composer, arranger, producer and performer worked on the films pre-war and _Lady and the Tramp,_and has been featured on albums by Janelle Monáe and Jidenna.
Much like filling Cillian Murphy’s boots, matching the show’s soundtrack is also a huge task.
From the Nick Cave theme song to the Radiohead and Jack White soundtrack, Peaky Blinders has always prided itself on its anachronistic and surly backing tracks.
GianArthur was more than a game.
Radiohead featured prominently in the show’s soundtrack, and GianArthur had previously created “OK Lady” in 2013, a reimagining of their songs through the sounds of D’Angelo.
“It was kind of a return to this mode that I had explored quite well,” says GianArthur. One song, ‘Not My Gun’ was particularly inspired by this connection. It comes halfway to a dramatic climax.
Unlike film projects, GianArthur had to do the music before rehearsals began. To do this, he took the script and recorded himself reading it aloud.
“I could listen to it while walking around my neighborhood,” he says. “I would hear the action, without music, and then imagine the music as it might be inserted.”
It was essential to find the tone of the show. Knight and Murphy used to have heated debates when choosing the show’s soundtrack, arguing whether a song was “Peaky” or not.
What GianArthur has created, alongside Pouffer and the rest of the creative cast, is a unique show that isn’t just an ode to the famous TV series. It’s its own chapter, reimagining the roots of the original drama in a new form.
In the words of GianArthur, they created something between a ballet and a rock concert. “It’s badass, if I say it myself” he laughs.
For Pouffer, it’s an opportunity to make a whole new audience dance, like a show that is aimed at both fans and novices of the series.
” Everyone dances. Even if you say you don’t dance, you do,” he says. “Dance is something we all do and can all relate to. It is a medium that really reaches your soul.
And what soul is more tantalizing to dig into than the elusive Tommy Shelby?
Rambert’s Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby is at the Troubadour Wembley Park Theater until November 6, followed by a UK tour in 2023;www.peakyblindersdance.com