The flier for Tipping the Velvet warns audiences that "this show contains scenes of a sexual nature." The play, adapted by Posh playwright Laura Wade is a lesbian coming of age story set in Victorian England, with so much more to shock audiences than just scenes of a sexual nature. The play is brash and rude, employs the kind of language that would make a sailor blush, is unexpectedly violent and has a torrent of adult toys thrown around the stage. It's also hilarious, camp and deeply, deeply silly. If you like films of a Carry On ilk, then this is the play for you.
A lesbian love story for the stage: Tipping the Velvet play
Tipping the Velvet tells the story of Whitstable oyster girl Nancy “Nan” Astley who falls in love watching trouser-clad performer Kitty Butler performing at her local music hall. Kitty invites Nan to work as for her as a dresser before moving the pair to London. In the big smoke, far away from the eyes of her watching parents, Nan finds herself on stage as part of Kitty's double-act, where the couple kiss. Strong women, class, sexuality, self-discovery, gender and feminist politics are all explored from here-on in.
Power women: Sarah Waters, Laura Wade, Lyndsey Turner, Sally Messham
The creatives behind the scenes are some of theatre's most esteemed females. Sarah Waters' novel is adapted by award-winning playwright Laura Wade and the team behind her 2010 play Posh, which premiered at the Royal Court before transferring to the West End and being adapted for the film The Riot Club.
The director is the Evening Standard Award-winning Lyndsey Turner, whose work on Tipping the Velvet follows hot on the heels of directing Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet at the Barbican Theatre. Turner has an impressive CV of work, most recently taking on productions at the National Theatre and Donmar Warehouse as well the Royal Court.
Sally Messham, in her professional debut as Nancy, should also be mentioned. She does a wonderful job of bringing gravitas and heft to the central character, alleviating the silliness happening all around and rooting the play in a moral message for a twenty-first century audience.
Musical Hall themes and Victorian atmosphere
Lizzie Clachan's set designs and theatrical backdrops are spectacular. In one especially memorable scene, a Victorian seaside photo-board appears with holes for the faces of actors standing behind. There's also a second hole, for them to poke their... whistles. When each whistle was blown by Nancy, it produced a different note, allowing her to play God Save the Queen on the line of gentlemen before her.
The sea-side chanty songs are transformed by modern numbers by the likes of Miley Cyrus into hilarious commentaries on both Victorian and modern-day Britain.
The play has been criticised for being three hours long. But as each scene is more ridiculous and visually pleasing than the last, it's difficult for audiences to get bored. Those with a love of silliness and a feminist bent with thoroughly enjoy Tipping the Velvet.
|What||Tipping the Velvet|
Lyric Square, King St, W6 0QL | MAP
|Nearest tube||Hammersmith (Hammersmith & City line) (underground)|
18 Sep 15 – 24 Oct 15, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|Price||£15 - £35|
|Website||Click here to book via Lyric Hammersmith Theatre|