Waters' novels showcase meticulously researched historical Queer sexualities and relationships, and as such are often really quite grim and depressing. Tipping the velvet as a show really wasn't, it was almost entirely frothy and happy in tone. Even the scene where Nancy is completely destitute and ends up doing survival sex work in Soho is made silly, with tooting rubber horns and the like to represent sex acts. khalinche pointed us to a review / discussion between people who were mostly disappointed with this directorial choice, but I found it uplifting. Perhaps it's because I'm not really part of Queer culture, but personally I don't feel the lack of more Tragic Lesbians or indeed women Tragically Forced into Prostitution. Waters' novels are very good for what they are, but I'm not sure I could have handled seeing some of her historically accurate and emotionally wrenching themes displayed on stage.
Instead, I really liked the music hall aesthetic. Having a toastmaster type I thought really added depth to the play, partly the self-referential thing of underlining the point that it's a theatre show about a theatre show. The masculine drag act that forms the backbone of the plot put women and their gender expressions on show for an audience, but the MC reminded us as the audience to identify with the audiences as much as the performers, we were consuming a story about these women for our own entertainment. I really enjoyed the climax where Nancy broke the fourth wall and physically wrested control of events from the MC, a really nice way of demonstrating her taking control of her destiny. Some of the Exeunt reviewers are annoyed at introducing an original male voice to what is a very female-centred story, and I can see where they're coming from but I thought the choice made a lot of sense. He's the patriarchy, he's perhaps an aspect of Nancy's inner voice which tells her that she doesn't get to have a meaningful existence in her own right but has to do what she's told and live for the entertainment of real people.
The costumes were kind of the star of the show. There are lots of underwear scenes meaning lots of very fun corsets. And I really like the way the costumes included various social classes and gender expressions, not just generic steampunk-ish "Victorian". I really liked Annie the suffragette's masculinized version of period female dress, for example. Indeed the stuff with Florence and her socialist / women's lib group was really lovely. Adelle Leonce's Florence was an excellent character and provided the lion's share of the emotional seriousness; she actually voiced the idea that lesbian sexuality and romance are real, not just titillation for an assumed-straight audience, ditto gendered violence, and that Queer women deserve emotional authenticity from their partners. I also liked the ending where the heroine chooses a real meaningful but perhaps unglamourous relationship over True Love.
The only real negative points were a lot of annoying stage-Cockney accents, which ok, they were trying to portray class issues which are important to the play but it felt too othering. And that both the leads were somewhat weak musically, not really able to carry the songs which punctuate the play. They did the Moulin Rouge style trick of versions of modern pop songs in period / music hall style, and that was cool, but given that the characters were supposed to be famous musical stars, their singing was merely ok and didn't fill the theatre or convey emotion well.
So yes, basically that was awesome, many thanks to ghoti for suggesting the show and for being excellent company for watching it!
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