Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Review: Tipping the Velvet at the Lyric Hammersmith

Tipping the Velvet
Lyric Hammersmith
Reviewed on Tuesday 29th September 2015

It's wonderful to see a novel adapted for the stage with such creativity. Daring to be bold and stylish, Laura Wade's adaptation of Sarah Waters' book fully embraces the traditions of music hall to create a uniquely structured piece of theatre.

David Cardy guides the audience through the show - he is the ringleader/Master of Ceremonies - introducing us to Nancy (Sally Messham) who breaks free from Whitstable to follow a male impersonator, who she falls in love with, to London. After their relationship hits the rocks Nancy finds herself out in the big wide world on her own. 

Tipping the Velvet tells a remarkable coming of age story, at the heart of which is a flawed character who you can't help but grow attached to. I simply cannot believe that Tipping the Velvet marks Messham's professional stage debut. The role is unspeakably huge - we see Nancy grow over the course of a huge journey - yet Messham takes it all in her stride. She is a force to be reckoned with and is clearly headed for big things.

Fresh from directing Benedict Cumberbatch in HamletLyndsey Turner production is often charming. I love that some huge risks have been taken; sex scenes are conveyed through the medium of circus whilst humour is drawn from the cheekiness and spirit of music hall.  

I think the first thirty minutes of act one and the final thirty minutes of act two are superb. However, other sections of the play (which has a running time of almost three hours) feel drawn out. There are times when Tipping the Velvet loses steam and becomes lost which is frustrating because the glimmers of excellence are so strong. 

Provocative, unapologetic and strangely empowering, Tipping the Velvet lends itself brilliantly as a play. If Turner continues to make cuts and fine-tune the piece, hopefully this won't be the last we see of it in London.

Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Tipping the Velvet runs at the Lyric Hammersmith until Saturday 24th October and at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh between Wednesday 28th October and Saturday 14th November 2015

Photo Credit: Johan Persson

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