Steven Knight looks puzzled, almost lost for words. He has just watched the contemporary dance company Rambert run through scenes of the first act of their… Peaky Blinders production, based on the hit TV show he wrote and made.
Watching the direct connection between the dancers’ movements and the audience is a revelation for Knight, who has collaborated for a full theater dance show that fills some of the backstory of the 1920s gangster drama.
“I was never into dancing. Dance was never my thing. I certainly can’t dance myself,” Knight says.
He was so impressed with the power of dance that he wrote a ballet scene for the show’s fifth season.
Recently Knight watched rehearsals of several scenes of the show, Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelbywhich will have its world premiere at the Birmingham Hippodrome on Tuesday before touring the UK
“I want other people to experience what I’m experiencing, and when you see it, it’s like there’s no barrier between you and it,” explains Knight, who wrote the script for the show.
“It’s not like opera, which I’m sure is fantastic, but you don’t have to be literate in opera or understand or know the story or anything. Just people doing what they do with music. And it’s just amazingly direct.”
Rambert Artistic Director Benoit Swan Pouffer directs and choreographs the production.
“(Knight) said to me, well, you get an idea across in 30 seconds, and when I do it in the series, it takes me hours to get that idea across. So that’s the power of dance. Dance for me and for everyone. You don’t have to learn the language. It’s the body,” Pouffer says. “We speak internationally, so it doesn’t matter where you come from. You will understand the story.”
And that goes for people who have never seen Peaky Blinders.
“We start in World War I in a way, and that’s not what we see in the series. And that explains why Peaky Blinders are Peaky Blinders,” he says.
Fans of the BBC series will be familiar with the love story central to the production between crime boss Tommy Shelby and undercover spy Grace Burgess, portrayed on television by Cillian Murphy and Annabelle Wallis.
“Tommy’s life is difficult. He makes a stick for his own back. He, of course, causes his own problems. He’s very confused, he’s all those things he’s in the TV show,” Knight says.
“But I think with dance – maybe you don’t see that in other forms – there’s the joy, when there’s joy, you see the joy of it. But you can also see its beauty in tragedy. So it’s a really interesting way to tell the story.”
Tommy and Grace are played by two different sets of dancers, with one of the couples, Guillaume Quéau and Naya Lovell, being well aware of their responsibility to the Peaky Blinders fan base.
“When the fans watch the show, they may have certain expectations about what the personas should look like as Grace or Tommy Shelby and I think this also creates an opportunity to find a middle ground between dance and Benoit’s vision and Rambert’s.” vision and Peaky BlindersQueu says.
“There’s an essence of it, but it’s also, I wouldn’t say modernized version of it, but it’s our version of the story.”
After the war, the Peaky Blinders Birmingham run their own course, using torture, shooting and stabbing as frequent methods of persuasion.
This violence is permeated by the movements of the dancers.
“I thought, please stop, because you two are going to hurt each other because it’s real.
“You feel the conflict and the violence quite strongly in the form of dance,” Knight says. “That was another revelation for me, the way a fight scene can be beautiful and choreographed and still be really quite full.”