Tipping the Velvet at the Lyric Theatre
Sally Messham makes her stage debut this autumn at the Lyric Theatre in playwright Laura Wade’s adaptation of Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet, a best-selling novel of the late 1990s. Set in 1887, it tells the tale of Nancy Astley, a young oyster girl from Whitstable who falls in love with male impersonator and music hall star Kitty Butler, following her to London where unexpected adventures await.
It is here that Nancy embarks on her journey of self-discovery, narrated throughout by a gavel-wielding chairman (played by David Cardy), who signals entry into each of Nancy’s life events with a whack of his prop. From embracing romantic emotions and Sapphic sexual intimacy, to suffering betrayal of the worst kind, from succumbing to the city’s more lurid activities as a rent boy and to becoming a sex slave to the upper classes, Nancy takes viewers through it all.
Despite some more mature themes, the performance is very playful, chock-full of comedy and also light-hearted in its approach to sex, with one of the evening’s highlights coming in the form of humorous aerial scenes which see Nancy and Kitty gather momentum high above the stage, while fully entangled. The all-inclusive nature of the adaptation, which sees band members come on stage to support characters through song, adds further elements of fun too, with renditions of modern day pop songs also establishing a sense of new within the old.
Although the play establishes a quick pace early on, this peters out gradually, unaided by the length of the performance. With political and feminist themes becoming more apparent in the second half, the audience is unfortunately somewhat removed from Nancy’s emotions and from the earlier part of her story. This is further emphasised through constant shifting between events, and interjections from the chairman, creating a sense of disjointedness and distancing from the characters.
Regardless, Messham is confident and versatile throughout, supported by Laura Rogers as Kitty and an ensemble cast that successfully adds comedy, wit and style to the performance.
Photos: Johan Persson
Tipping the Velvet is on at the Lyric Theatre from 19th September until 24th October 2015, for further information or to book visit here.