Writer: Jim Cartwright
Director: Ben Occhipinti
Reviewer: May Mellstrom
During this period of redevelopment to the main Octagon Theatre building the shows must go on elsewhere; this time it is the turn of the beautiful Albert Halls to play host to a revival of Farnworth born playwright Jim Cartwright’s The Rise and Fall of Little Voice.
The popular play was last seen at the Octagon in 2012 and Katie Elin-Salt returns to the title role, drawing on her experience to give an assured performance of great depth and versatility. With a new director, design and supporting cast, however, those who enjoyed the production seven years ago may well find plenty of reasons for a second visit.
Little Voice – or ‘LV’ for short – is the shy, reclusive daughter of the domineering Mari, who hero worships her late father and cherishes his record collection of great divas. Escaping to the world of Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey and Marilyn Monroe she privately transforms herself into her idols – that is, until her mother’s new boyfriend Ray hears her impersonations and decides to turn LV into the star, whether she wants to be or not.
For much of Act One, it is only Mari’s voice that is heard and everyone else struggles to ‘get a word in’; whether it be LV herself, their kindly but much put upon neighbour Sadie (a likeable and funny Sue Vincent) or even the string of people on the other end of Mari’s newly fitted phone. Sally George plays the monstrous Mari, a largely selfish character consumed by jealousy of LV’s adoration of her father and then of LV herself for capturing Ray’s attention. Ironically, when Mari allows a glimpse of vulnerability to show through and attempts to actually talk to her daughter, there is no-one there to hear her. Their final scene together is the emotional climax of the play and is a gripping culmination of their respective journey’s throughout.
As talent spotter Ray, Mark Moraghan wisely underplays the sleazier aspects of the role and instead one can believe there is some genuine affection for LV, even if he is primarily motivated by money and success. Akshay Gulati is charming as Billy, a character also labelled as ‘quiet’ who recognises that they both have their own passions and personalities if people only took the time to listen.
Running to two hours and forty-five minutes, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is a lengthy play and Ben Occhipinti’s production does suffer from a lack of pace, particularly in Act One with the focus on Mari’s caustic monologues. The highlight is a wistful version of Over the Rainbow, beautifully performed by Elin-Salt. Although in fact longer, the piece comes alive in the second Act when the two-tiered set from designer Amanda Stoodley is occasionally transformed into the low key glitz of the club where LV makes her debut. Ted Robbins as Mr Boo is clearly accustomed to the role of compere and one cannot help but enjoy the soundtrack of classic songs, from Big Spender to Get Happy.
Although a stunning venue, one imagines this would be a quite different show if performed in the Octagon itself as the lack of intimacy in the Albert Halls causes the atmosphere to fall flat on occasion. Some of the more comedic moments are lost and the production would benefit from tightening up certain scenes and injecting more pace. It is a dialogue-heavy play and although the sparks may fly in the Hoff household they don’t always fly on stage. Overall, the energy from LV’s performances is not always maintained and there is not quite enough to keep the audience fully engaged throughout the lengthy running time.
Despite this, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is an enjoyable evening of theatre, with a wonderful selection of music and strong, engaging performances. The venue presents some challenges, however, the Octagon should also be commended for continuing to bring quality theatre ‘Out and About’ in Bolton before moving back to their refurbished home.
Runs until 2nd February 2019 | Image: Richard Davenport