Writer and Director: Jim Cartwright
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
In an age when programmes such as X Factor give everyone a chance of instant fame, the route to musical stardom now seems in any dreamer’s wish. Judging by thenever-endingqueues of wannabees, it seems that most of the population wants their five minutes of fame.
Jim Cartwright’s The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, however, looks at a more reluctant talent. Young LV, so called because of her meek Little Voice, takes comfort in her own world, seeking solace from her loud and abusive mother, Mari, instead turning to her late father’s classic record collection. Through the songs of Piaf, Streisand and Bassey, LV escapes her humdrum existence into a more exotic world. The constant listening also has a surprise side effect – painfully shy in everyday situations, when the lights go down LV can mimic her songstress idols.
An unlikely star, LV’s talent is soon exploited but, rather than the spotlight, this songbird would rather find her own voice. Can she escape the clutches of those who want to use her talent and discover her own path?
Cartwright directs his own work and has a clear vision for the piece. He cleverly builds up layers of characterisation into the script and his direction mirrors that. Mari may initially seem a monster but we begin to realise she’s perhaps just as much a victim as her daughter. LV may seem to be the innocent victim but, hidden deep beneath the shy exterior, is a tough spirit desperate to escape.
Cartwright draws this depth out from his company slowly, allowing the comedy to become darker as the evening progresses. It’s this mix of comedy and pathos that makes the story so identifiable. Cartwright sets the scene preshow and during the interval in the Northern working man’s club that provides the outlet for LV’s faltering showbiz career. But it’s not an entirely successful concept, causing the audience to thinkthey’vemissed the start of the show.
Stepping into the shoes of indisposed Beverley Callard, Sarah Dearlove makes the rôle of Mari her own, dispelling any fears of those missing Callard’s star billing. Dearlove gives Mari an initial roughness, a horror in hotpants and soaked in booze but, beneath the coarseness, there’s a woman desperate to be loved. It’s a powerful performance that totally convinces; she may be vile to her daughter and her long suffering neighbour (a nicely observed performance from Sally Plumb) but although we should despise her we somehow understand her otherwise abhorrent behaviour.
In a double whammy for the production Ray Quinn is also currently indisposed but, like Dearlove, John Cockerill proves to be a more than suitable substitute, though in a somewhat underwritten part. There’s fine support from the aforementioned Plumb as well as from Duggie Brown as a suitably cheesy club host and Simon Thorp as the chancer turned impresario Ray Say.
The evening, however, rightly belongs to Jess Robinson’s Little Voice. Robinson captures beautifully the troubled young woman whose shyness rules her entire life. Miniscule gesture and inflection suggest an inner torment but when she finally finds her voice in the form of her musical heroines it’s a magical moment. Robinson’s mimicry of a host of Divas is spot on and her switching from Piaf to Tina Turner to Julie Andrews to Gracie Fields to Streisand in a matter of seconds is spellbinding.
Morgan Large’s split level set contains plenty of surprises but the production at times feels unsure of its footing. Scenes outside of the house seem somewhat overshadowed by the set and scene transitions do lose some tension.
Overall, however, there’s much to enjoy and Cartwright’s writing remains a darkly poignant antidote to the current fascination with instant fame.
Runs until Saturday 13 April and continues to tour