Peaky Blinders: The Rise review – immersed in a criminally flimsy plot | Theatre

Peaky Blinders: The Rise review – immersed in a criminally flimsy plot | Theatre

It is 1921 and the Shelby clan have made their way from Birmingham to London to conquer the capital’s underbelly. They have issued an invitation for a family meeting to which we are invited.

Anyone who has watched Steven Knight’s crime-gang TV series Peaky Blinders will know that an immersive show with Tommy Shelby at its heart is bound to involve a good few drinks, perhaps a punch-up – and maybe even a bullet to the back of the head.

We are told beforehand that Tommy (Craig Hamilton) is meeting the north London kingpin Alfie Solomons (Sam Blythe), at this moody Camden warehouse which sparks with fireworks as Tommy enters. But for diehard fans and initiates alike, this show directed by Tom Maller and written by Katie Lyons is disappointingly all party atmosphere and no story.

We meet “The Italian” Charles Sabini, a garrulous man who wants us to spy on Tommy for him. Then Tommy and Polly (Emma Stansfield) make welcome speeches from balconies. After that, things become confused with actors ushering us from one room to the next, herding us back and forth.

Lucinda Turner (Ada Thorne) and Daisy Winter-Taylor (Phyllis Robbins) in Peaky Blinders: The Rise. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

There are strains of a plot but the story lacks coherence. We are split into smaller groups and led to yet more stuffy rooms where actors speak of money making schemes. A character charges in to demand: “What the fuck is going on?” and captures my thoughts precisely. The rooms get hotter and hotter which adds to a sense of scrambled delirium.

Out of frustration, I fall in with a rebel faction within the audience that has managed to break into a bank vault where money is stashed. We walk out with stuffed pockets, triumphant. But this money has no currency within the flimsy plot and we plod around, disheartened, when we realise our Monopoly millions mean nothing. There are intermittent scenes, not all of which can be heard, and a boxing fight toward the end which carries no drama.

Lovers of the TV series may be content to drink in the period detail and atmosphere. But it has none of the slick intelligence of that show. There is a brooding set designed by Rebecca Brower and an infectious score (music by Barnaby Race and sound design by Luke Swaffield for Autograph) but it’s not enough to sustain us for two long hours, and it comes to feel like we are in one of Camden’s many crowded pubs, with Peaky Blinder knobs on.

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