Right from the moment we walk the cobbled alley in Camden to Peaky Blinders the Rise, we are immersed with characters from the show walking by the queue. Not long after, a staff member thrust two pound notes into our hands, a gift from Thomas Shelby himself. These would come in useful at the betting shop as we later found out. As we head through the bottle green Shelby Export Ltd doors, we are transported back in time into a smokey 1920’s warehouse in London.
“The Rise finds Tommy Shelby has taken the northern racecourses, eliminated his opponent, Billy Kimber, and now has his sights set on a London expansion. With the approval of north London kingpin, Alfie Solomons, guests are personally invited to a family meeting at the Shelbys’ Camden warehouse to hear Tommy’s plan, that could prove lucrative for everyone and promises to be a night of celebration.”
On entering, we heeded a warning of no phones and no F***ing fighting in a true Shelby style by Walter McDonald. As the music starts we are directed through one more set of doors into a bustling room full of Peaky Blinders atmosphere and some of the Shelby clan. We walk though the sets, including a fully functional Garrison bar, which had been used on the set of the hit TV show. You will also see other items from the show nestled inside the sets. Keep an eye out for items from Polly’s house, railings from the betting shop, and have your picture taken on the steps on the caravan outside, which was used in the final episodes of Season 6 (although its had a glow up!).
I wasn’t sure what to expect with immersive theatre, I was anxious at first that I’d be dragged into something I wasn’t comfortable with, but that wasn’t the case. Dress up or don’t, get involved, or don’t. Be as immersive as you want. There really is no right or wrong way to enjoy the experience. There was a good mix of Ladies in their full flapper gear, Men in their fine suits and the London tourists straight off the street in jeans and trainers. Flat caps and enjoyment are compulsory though! After completing an online quiz when our tickets were delivered, I was informed I was Buckland, Irish Shelby kin. I was instructed to ‘dress to impress with a splash of green’. Again, it’s only a suggestion- but it felt great to dress up and feel part of the surroundings. After a quick Peaky Pear drop at the bar, I threw caution to the wind and got involved, earning some Shelby cash along the way. By the end of the nearly 3 hour long show, I was inviting Alfie Solomons (Sam Blythe) to dance, which he not so politely declined! Sam’s impression of Alfie was outstanding, he had his voice down to a fine art, even my guest had to take a second glance to check Tom Hardy wasn’t hiding under that hat.
I have to admit, I’m a massive Peaky Blinders fan, I thought I may struggle with the actors ‘impersonating’ their counterparts. They have big shoes to fill, and those shoes are filled well. Before you hear anyone speak- you know exactly who they are. There are the usual faces, Tommy, Arthur, John, Michael, Polly and Ada and a few new characters that help the story unfold. If you get invited to the Eden Club you’ll be lucky, or unlucky enough to meet another gangster, (played by Angus Brown) who was more believable in his role than the character in the TV series. At one point I was concerned that the veins in his neck were going to explode. A quick double take at Ada, played by Mabli Gwynne as she passed by- just in case Sophie Rundle hadn’t sneaked in to reprise her role as the ultimate sister of the Shelby brothers.
Fans of Cillian Murphy may believe that no one can do Tommy like he can, but I’d say Craig Hamilton does a stunning job. Although he’s no Murphy look-a-like, he manages to encapsulate Tommy like a dream. The stance, the voice, the facial expressions, after a few moments watching him, you can truly believe you’re in the presence of Shelby himself.
Actor James Bryant was my personal favourite. He plays 3 characters within the performance at different times and executes them all perfectly. Changing accents between Irish, American and upper class British- I didn’t even realise at one point who I was talking to, after only seeing him a few moments before as a different character!
I have only one criticism of the show and it’s a small one. For me, the actors tasked with playing the iconic role of Polly are a tad too young for the matriachial character. This does not- in any way effect the performance and the character of Polly is still brilliantly done. Many of the performers are covers for other characters, and so need to be interchangeable for each role that they may need to cover.
Within one main storyline, there are multiple sub plots happening all around. Depending on which character you get involved with, depends how your experience will go. Will you be drawn in by the Italians or stay loyal to Tommy Shelby? Getting engrossed in your surroundings you soon feel that you are really working for the Peaky Blinders. Enemies are all around and ready to make offers that may prove hard to refuse. We were sent to help Arthur Shelby, played by Ross Ford to save the warehouse from disaster, then on to the Eden club to get some information on the Italians. Another quick drink at the Eden bar while another storyline unfolded. Others in our group were being influenced by ‘Georgie’ played by Reece Richardson as he tried to gain information on the Peaky Blinders plan. After witnessing an intense meeting between Tommy and a man from Chicago- a roar could be heard from from the room next door where a boxing match was being prepared for the others who had followed another story in this multi-layered performance.
It is those sub plots and the believable characters which makes this show so special, so clever, it leaves you wanting more. You could visit over and over and have a different experience every time. Every single actor in the show brings alive their characters so well you feel you’re stood beside a real Peaky Blinder, Gangster or counterpart. There have been many return visits by people who have been captivated by the show. I didn’t get it at first, but now I do, and I know I will be heading back to 1920’s Camden as soon as possible.
Music, laughter, gambling, plotting, drinking and fighting. You would expect nothing less from this ‘blinding experience, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Tickets are available across three tiers: VIP, Premium and General Admission, starting from £49.50 per person. Each tier offers a different experience and starting point on the night as well as exclusive pre-show content, character interactions and even the opportunity to be a part of Tommy Shelby’s Inner Circle for those with a VIP ticket. Those booking into the extended run can enjoy an exclusive early bird offer giving them £10PP off when booking 8 weeks ahead with code PEAKYEARLYBIRD10.
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