Preview: Tipping The Velvet

Sally Messham and Laura Rogers
Sally Messham and Laura Rogers
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WHEN Tipping The Velvet, Sarah Waters’ first historical novel was published in 1998, it captured the Victorian age so well it caused some to compare her writing with that of Charles Dickens. Praise indeed.

Set in Victorian England, Tipping The Velvet is the coming-of-age tale of a young woman who falls in love with a male impersonator.

The story begins in 1887. Nancy Astley, played in the new Royal Lyceum production (which opens tomorrow) by Sally Messham, sits in the audience at her local music hall.

She doesn’t know it yet, but the next act on the bill will change her life. Tonight is the night she’ll fall in love... with the thrill of the stage and with Kitty Butler, played by Laura Rogers, a girl who wears trousers.

Giddy with desire and hungry for experience, Nancy follows Kitty to London where unimaginable adventures await.

Waters’ debut novel, Tipping The Velvet was chosen by The New York Times and The Library Journal as one of the best books of 1998 and adapted for the small screen in a controversial, three-part BBC series in 2002.

At the Lyceum this week, the piece is brought to life on the stage for the first time.

Waters, who was working on a PhD dissertation in English literature when she decided to write a story she would like to read, says “I am absolutely thrilled that Tipping The Velvet is to be brought to life on the stage.

“I can think of no better setting for the play than the beautiful Lyceum, and no more exciting creative talents than those of writer Laura Wade and director Lyndsey Turner.”

She continues, “The production promises to be full of energy, fun and music hall sparkle - in other words, everything I could wish for. I am simply delighted.”

Employing her love for the variety of people and districts in London, Waters consciously chose an urban setting for the tale as opposed to previous lesbian-themed fiction she had read, in which characters escape an oppressive society to live apart from it.

Waters wanted her creations to interact with their surroundings and the society in which they lived.

A co-production with the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, the production has already received favourable response and runs at the Lyceum until 14 November.

Tipping the Velvet, Royal Lyceum, Grindlay Street, tomorrow-14 November, 7.30pm (matinees 2pm), £13-£29.50, 0131-248 4848