Review: Pulsatingly glorious: “Tipping the Velvet” @ Lyric Hammersmith Reviewed

It’s all very theatrical in a pleasing triumphant vision. Narrated by David Cardy to guide the audience through the story (highlighting the elements cut out, and delving into Nancy’s (played by Sally Messham) psyche) and pitching the meta-get up early on, the audience is invited to take on a voyueristic observation of charismatic Nancy ‘Nan’ King’s journey through the dizzied sights of Victorian England’s gender bending music hall, sapphic society and socialist liberation.

There is an assumption by playwright Laura Wade that the audience will be familiar with the narrative (original novel by Sarah Waters), have seen the BBC adaptation and be ready to compare this re-working to both. We could have done witha little less of his interference perhaps, as it comes close to manipulating the story rather than gently exposition
guidace. However this production has the upper hand on the TV, it is played out on a theatrical stage and can bring
to life the story and commentary on theatrical story telling on one single satisfying swoop.

Lyndsey Turner’s direction provides some excellent creative concoctions that immediately displace any comparison as fruitless… in particular, the train journey to London, the rent boy sex act portrayal and the circus acrobatics depicting
the intimate lesbian sex scenes work extraordinarily well. As does the song book: well chosen modern rock and pop
songs adapted to suit the setting and the narrative and far more interesting than yet another re working of “Following in Father’s Footsteps” complete with live band and chorus – bringing to mind Baz Lurhman’s Moulin Rouge.

Some of the experimental staging was less successful – in particular the Smithfield Market meat hanging scene – in that it felt out of place or less well integrated than the rest of the production and almost comical with puppeteered pigs.

Laura Rogers’ Kitty looked the part entirely and seduces Nan into a life of stage and closeted love. The
outstanding performance comes from Adelle Leonce who perfectly caputres not only Alice’s disgust at her sister Nancy when she comes out to her back in Whistable, but who also plays Flo as if she had stepped right out of the pages of the novel, drawing both sympathy and pride as she fearfully does not compromise on her values. Bravo indeed.

Overall there is plenty to enjoy and if you are familiar with the story, it’s great fun to see what they have done with the text, and there’s plenty of humour too – the audience is treated welcomingly like a friend.

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