Punk rock probably wasn't uppermost in Sarah Waters' mind when she wrote her iconic 1998 novel about one young woman's getting of wisdom as she burls through nineteenth century lesbian London. When a a train ride to the big city becomes a cut-up sound art chorale, however, it is clearly at the heart of Lyndsey Turner's audacious production of Laura Wade's equally wild adaptation.
As provincial girl Nancy falls for gender-bending music hall diva Kitty, life becomes one big cabaret, though not before the show begins with a cheeky wink to Lyceum shows past care of David Cardy's Good Old Days style Chairman. He dictates the action with his gavel, thumping things along when they get a tad dull. With a Palm Court style band accompanying the action, it is this embracing of theatricality that makes what follows so exquisite.
So while Nancy's home-life is expressed through a series of flattened-out sketches, her awakening arrives to a soundtrack of glam-tastic pop trash and old blues numbers given a vaudevillian make-under so at least one song sounds like Billy Bragg. At times such rude intrusions feel like they're retying the umbilical knot between old-time music hall and what used to be called alternative cabaret.
At the picaresque heart of this co-production between the Royal Lyceum and the Lyric, Hammersmith , though, is Nancy's sexual, artistic and political emancipation. Played with increasing glory by a remarkable Sally Messham alongside equally wicked turns by Laura Rogers as Kitty and Kirsty Besterman as the power-crazed Diana, as Nancy finds her voice, feet and pretty much everything else besides, exactly who is wearing the trousers is liberation itself. Oysters and all.
The Herald, November 2nd 2015