The Stage Adaptation Of Sarah Waters’ Lesbian Classic ‘Tipping the Velvet’ Earns Positive Reviews

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The stage adaptation of Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet is earning many positive reviews from critics.

The new play has been adapted by playwright Laura Wade, who has teamed up again with director Lyndsey Turner, who she worked with on her play Posh.

The Guardian gave the show a three-star review, saying

Wade ingeniously frames the story by presenting it through the eyes of a gavel-wielding Victorian music-hall chairman of the kind made familiar by TV’s The Good Old Days. This pays off beautifully in the first half, which is a hymn to theatre,” At the opening night on Monday, Wade told the BBC: “There’s so much theatre already in the book, it was about finding that and drawing it out and because of the Victorian age of this theatre, it just seemed like a perfect match.”


The Stage said

It takes the history and traditions of music hall and mashes them together with something altogether more modern. Music, comedy, circus and illusion are all thrown into the mix,” the review read.

Master of Ceremonies David Cardy narrates the story of Nancy, an oyster girl from Whitstable who falls hard and deep for Kitty, a male impersonator and music hall star, before taking to the boards and becoming a star herself. The songs they perform are not music hall numbers, but rather more recent: Prince and the Pet Shop Boys, a little bit of Miley Cyrus, a dash of Bonnie Tyler.”


The TV version – which starred Rachael Stirling as Nan and Keeley Hawes as cross-dressing stage star Kitty – was famed for its steamy sex scenes.

The stage adaptation instead represents the passionate sexual acts with astonishing aerial stunt work reminiscent of Cirque Du Soleil.

theatre-tipping the velvet

Playwright Laura Wade explained

We wanted to create something on stage that showed how those sexual encounters really felt and the different emotional character of them, to convey that emotional pull to the audience. Sex is always rather difficult to do on stage because you can’t have close ups in the same way that you can on film so you have to find a different way of telling that story.”

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The cast was led by newcomer Sally Messham, who plays Nan, added

This is my first professional theatre job, straight in at the deep end. I picked up the book as soon as I got the role and I loved it, it’s like a Dickensian novel, you get a lot of Victorian novels about gay men and very few about lesbians and what Laura and Sarah have done is to give them a rich history.”

It is still rare to see women’s sexuality portrayed with such frankness on stage, something Waters herself has noted.

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Talking to the BBC on opening night, Water’s said

I do go to the theatre a lot but it’s only when you see a stage with a lot of women on it, telling a young woman’s story that you realise how rarely you do see that. So it has been really refreshing for me to see Laura’s fantastic script. It’s also lovely to know the book still has a currency, still appeals to people. Since I wrote it 20 years ago, a lot has changed since then.”

 Tipping the Velvet will run at the Lyric Hammersmith until 24 October, before moving to the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, from 28 October – 14 November.

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