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BWW Review: TIPPING THE VELVET, Lyric Hammersmith, September 28 2015


Tom Cox

'Tipping The Velvet' brings back the collaboration between playwright Laura Wade and director Lyndsey Turner. Last seen with the successful 'Posh', this is clearly a duo to be reckoned with and their adaptation of Sarah Waters' popular novel is playfully re-imagined with a masterful design.

The story follows Nancy, an oyster girl from Whitstable, who moves to London following her first love Kitty Butler. Kitty is a music hall star with a male impersonation act and Nancy soon finds herself on Kitty's stage and in her bed. Narrated by a master of ceremonies, Nancy's life takes a series of interesting turns played out in a variety of creative and comic skits.

Moments include a pitch-perfect soundscape choir, singing pig corpses turned xylophones and some perfectly over the top, heavily symbolic, silk work.The majority land as real gems but constantly dropping the curtain on the action does begin to stunt the narrative, particularly in the second half, and the show would certainly benefit from a snip.

Sally Messham as the protagonist is a new star. Her journey is confidently pitched and her charm makes it difficult to take your eyes off her. She's supported well by an ensemble cast and other stand-out performances come from Adelle Leonce as sensitive, constrained social activist Florence and Andy Rush who grabs laughs by the bucket with some of his smaller moments, before delivering the sweet brother of the latter.

With a beautiful music hall-inspired design from Lizzie Clachan and similarly pastiche music from composer Michael Bruce, this show is a successful collaboration all round. The story of Nancy is well worth telling and Turner's imaginative direction is the final trick to make this variety act of a play a shoo-in success.

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