Arms whirling like windmills, blocky leaps, ducking and lunging. Sure to be a sell-out
Director, Benoit Swan Pouffer’s choreography is stunning, possibly exhausting but mind-blowing. This has violence, death, sentimental shlock, everything you could want from a West End musical, only this has the added skill of incredible ballet dancers. And not a pointe shoe to be seen. The music, partly on-stage, partly recorded is mainly Roman GianArthur, with Radiohead and much other similar Alt Indie plus the familiar TV theme Red Right Hand by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. A warning though. It is loud.
Steven Knight, the writer of the TV show has created the story-line of this ballet which echoes the TV but adds different elements too, cleverly starting with a First World War battle scene which explains how emotionally and psychologically damaged the men are: ‘Dead inside.’ Benjamin Zephaniah, the rasta preacher from the series, is present as narrator, a gravelly recorded voice-over. The main characters are instantly recognizable: Arthur (Conor Kerrigan) with hunched shoulders, Polly (Simone Damberg Würtz) with one hand on hip, the other hand posing with cigarette (though her matriarchal power is not fully explored) and of course, Thomas Shelby (Guillaume Quéau) who could not reproduce Cillian Murphy’s dead eyes but achieves a striking presence with moments of stillness, brooding melancholy and a credible break down. Naya Lovell as Thomas’ love interest, Grace, is not an Irish lassie singing traditional songs, but a black jazz singer with cool slinkiness in shiny green dress. A new character, performed by Musa Motha is a star of the show executing difficult moves as he whirls on one leg and a crutch in various transformations. And look out for Adél Bálint who plays Ada, especially in the last Act line-up giving it her all in pink dress and cheeky facial expressions.
It is amazing (maybe shameful!?) how enjoyable watching fight scenes can be. A whole ensemble of arms whirling like windmills, blocky leaps, ducking and lunging. Then later there are contrasts with female factory workers who perform complicated arm movements in the steel works (suggested by a vast chain hanging down and the clang of metal on metal) and night club scenes, girls in gold glitter even trans (the same dancer, Dylan Tedaldi, who plays the bulky foreman, padded out - quite an achievement of varied roles). But the pounding bass and mayhem of gang war breaks out again and threatens to pall until luckily there is a change of mood - gypsy dances, a wedding and a shock ending just before the curtain comes down on Act One.
The second act is thankfully quieter and moodier as Thomas Shelby descends into opium dreams to dull the pain of grief. His two duets with males, featuring complicated lifts are beautifully choreographed, a welcome contrast to ensemble mayhem. However, there are longeurs. Worse, throughout the show, the raised level of the onstage stage with dancers performing behind it, prevented those in the stalls seeing the dancers’ feet.The set designer, Moi Tran, really should have avoided that.
Such a shame as this show has everything going for it otherwise. It’s still a fabulous, hugely entertaining night out, sure to be a sell-out wherever it tours.