Review: Tipping The Velvet

4*
Edinburgh Fringe (This production has now ended).
By Italia Conti 2nd Year BA Acting Students

The overcrowded music hall of the 19th century would be far rowdier than this, our Big Top-style hosts prompt as an audience of middle-aged white people fail to engage with their up-beat prologue. Their lack of a reaction is pretty funny to me, if kind of spoilsport-y, and I get the sense that I would have enjoyed the play far greater with a different audience: an audience that is probably younger, probably queerer, an audience that would cheer with hard-won kisses and sing along with political chants.

Tipping the Velvet is the story of Nancy, an oyster girl who falls into the life of a male impersonator after falling in love with a female stage performer. It is what I’d like to call ‘integrated inclusiveness’, a story that includes but is not about an identity. While the play covers the rise of the labour movement, women’s rights, prostitution and the visibility of queer women, it does so within the bounds of the story.

I had read the book it is based on several years before, and the story came back to me as the play progressed. It was so well adapted that the play actually made me reanalyse opinions I had formed on reading the novel, which took me by surprise. I seem to remember absolutely disliking Nancy in the novel, thinking her actions irredeemably selfish and stubbornly not thinking her deserving of a happy ending. While the play did not dilute her choices, the force of the play’s narrative made me reconsider her motivations, and I found myself slowly coming around to the desire to see her happy.
I did sometimes wish the vocals were stronger, especially through key musical numbers. I enjoyed the direction and comedy of the musical interludes, but they did tend to feel lacking in energy.

By having multiple characters with a certain sexuality, Tipping the Velvet also sidesteps the ‘queercoding’ of its villains. With a cast of characters who are majority women-loving-women, you can afford to have villainous, morally dubious and questionably motivated women without having stigmatised the lesbian identity.

As it was, Tipping the Velvet did what adaptations often fail to do: to cut together the best bits and to actually dramatise them. With the well-executed tongue in cheek humour, the ridiculously put-together ensemble and the charming lead, I couldn’t help but to love it.

©Nemo Martin 2018

This production has now closed, but follow @TippingVConti for future updates.

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