Tipping the Velvet - Lyric Hammersmith

Circus consultancy

In Summer 2015 we met Lyndsey Turner and the team from the Lyric Hammersmith to discuss plans for their production of Tipping the Velvet.

The challenge was to find forms of aerial performance that three non-circus-trained actors could comfortably perform and that would express the emotional content of these scenes – one warm and loving, the other cold and distant. Our work on the 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony had taught us the value of the looped silk which provides a forgiving cradle for the non-circus-hardened body but also some useful creative potential.

The doubles aerial work of Katherine Arnold and Hugo Demarais provided inspiration for the second scene and we hit upon the notion of an aerial chandelier (or ‘sex contraption’ as it would eventually become) which could be specially fabricated to provide a supportive, solid structure for the actors to work on.

We recruited Katharine Arnold as our Circus Consultant to train the actors and choreograph the routines. Katharine’s first job was to take the actors into our Combustion Chamber and winch them high into the air to make sure they had a head for heights! A specially designed aerial chandelier was commissioned from Roger Robinson of Acrobat Productions and soon after an intensive training regime was put in place for the three actors involved. Watch the video of Sally and Kirsty rehearsing the ‘Contraption Scene’ on their specially created structure here.

About the show

Acclaimed playwright Laura Wade brought Sarah Waters’ bestselling novel to the stage in a new adaptation, directed by Lyndsey Turner.

It’s 1887 and Nancy Astley 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, a girl who wears trousers.

Tipping the Velvet played at the Lyric Hammersmith 18 Sep - 24 Oct 2015.

Susannah Clapp for the GuardianThere is a carnival of talent in Tipping the Velvet.

Dominic Cavendish for the TelegraphThe ladies spin round on high – a circussy feat emblematic of their giddy bedroom passion.

Kev Geoghegan for the BBCThe stage adaptation ... represents the passionate sexual acts with astonishing aerial stunt work reminiscent of Cirque Du Soleil.

Natasha Tripney for The StageIt 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.

Behind the scenes

Watch the actors' aerial circus training. Starring Sally Messham (Nan), Laura Rogers (Kitty) and our circus consultant Katherine Arnold.

Find out more

Read more on our blog about our work with the Lyric Hammersmith. Contact Ben on 020 7613 8241 or email ben@nationalcircus.org.uk for any information regarding our casting and consultancy services.