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The Rise and Fall of Little Voice – Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Writer: Jim Cartwright

Director: Jim Cartwright

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

[rating:3]

The Rise and Fall of  Little Voice Belgrade Coventry Paul ColtasFollowing the death of her father, the painfully shy Little Voice (so shy, we never even hear her utter any other name for herself) withdraws into the world she shared with him, a world in which the great divas wear their hearts on their sleeves, singing out their emotions. She spends almost all her time in her bedroom listening to her father’s collection of records by Shirley Bassey, Judy Garland, Edith Piaf, Ethel Merman and all the rest. Meanwhile, downstairs her mother Mari, the high-octane merry widow, is out of control. Desperate for a man and enjoying the good life, these two will never see eye-to-eye. Indeed, Mari holds Little Voice in contempt as she tries to get on with her own life. She is supported by her desperately overweight friend, and comic foil, Sadie. But now Mari can see herself turning a corner. She has got her claws into Ray Say, a flashy spiv and small time talent scout. She sees him as her passport out of her grey life and clings to him; he sees her as a diversion, a bit of fun. That is until he hears Little Voice singing some of her favourite songs herself. At first refusing to believe this can be the mousy girl he met, he quickly realises she has star potential and sets about exploiting her talent. Everyone is clear that Little Voice will be the next big thing, but is it what she herself wants..? Jim Cartwright’s play seeks to explore how we react to loss and how we can manipulate, or be manipulated by, others. But how successful is it?

The first half of the play sets out the characters for us, but they are mostly lazy, two-dimensional stereotypes. Beverley Callard is the loud, brash, but ultimately needy Mari, tottering about in what appears to be the remnants of her wardrobe from her time playing Liz McDonald. Cheap laughs, reminiscent of Donald McGill’s saucy seaside postcards, are delivered courtesy of the overweight and overshadowed Sadie (Sally Plumb). Plumb sadly never gets the chance to add any depth to her characterisation. Simon Thorp’s Ray Say is suitably sleazy, but appears to have taken his characterisation straight out of Boycie’s book from Only Fools and Horses, even borrowing his voice. Almost every scene plays out like a bad 70s sitcom. The only chink of light here is the tentative relationship between Little Voice and the similarly shy telephone engineer and light enthusiast, Billy (Ray Quinn). These scenes are touching in their awkwardness, handled with much greater sensitivity and give a clue as to how good this play could be with more subtle direction.

After the interval, however, the quality of the performances and direction improve massively and the characters become more believable. Callard tones down her performance several notches so that we can see past the volume to the insecurities below. Thorp is truly oleaginous as he displays Say’s desperation to hit the big time on the back of Little Voice, and his frustration as she is unwilling to co-operate. The exchanges in this half are much more believable and the show is lifted out of the rut in which it found itself in the first half. And we have the virtuoso performance of Jess Robinson as Little Voice is talked into a show at the local club. She comes alive as she emulates her heroines. Robinson is indeed a very talented actress and mimic, and her club spot is worth the journey itself.

Very much a play of two halves, this is entertaining enough, but one can’t help but feel it could have been so much better.

Runs until 1st June

Picture: Paul Coltas

 

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