Writer: Jim Cartwright
Director: James Brining
Reviewer: James Garrington
Ask the general public to name a great British playwright, and very few would mention Jim Cartwright: yet his writing is as sharp and hard-hitting as any. When it was first produced in 1992, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice was very much a play of its period; the country was coming out of a bad recession, times were hard, and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice echoed many of the sentiments of the time, as it still does today.
Little Voice or LV (Nancy Sullivan) is a desperately shy girl who spends her life shut in her room, trying to avoid her overbearing mother, Mari (Vicky Entwhistle). LV’s means of escape is to listen to her dead father’s record collection, but LV has a hidden gift – the ability to impersonate the singers on the records she hears. When Mari’s new boyfriend hears LV, he sees an opportunity to use her to make his fame and fortune and LV is thrust, quite literally, into the spotlight.
The play is surely an actor’s dream. The script is beautifully written – the characters are larger than life, almost caricatures, but still scarily believable, and present many opportunities for the cast to shine: and without exception they rise to the challenge superbly. Characters are established right from the start – from the opening scene Mari is presented as an intensely irritating character, intent on finding male company and throwing herself at a man because he splashes his money about. Vicky Entwhistle’s interpretation really hits the mark – overbearing, entirely selfish and seemingly without self-respect, this is a character we love to hate.
The object of her pursuit, Ray Say is also sharply-observed by Chris Gascoyne. He is cynically exploitative, pursuing his own future and not caring who is damaged on the way. Gascoyne perfectly captures the veneer of charm and smarm covering the self-centred and insensitive interior – a veneer so thin that the audience can see right through it, and still understand why the rest of the cast are taken in by it. No easy feat.
Not everyone is self-centred though, and there are some other wonderful characters and portrayals here. Sadie (Joanna Brookes) is fabulous as Mari’s timid friend, seemingly happy to be pushed around unceasingly. Brendan Charleson shows a nice sensitivity as Mr Boo, and Tendayi Jembere gives a good interpretation of Billy, a genuine character in danger of being lost among the grotesque caricatures.
For this play to work it needs a central character who is believable, and can impersonate the singers well – and Nancy Sullivan as LV certainly does not disappoint, with a stunning portrayal of a girl who just wants to be loved. Frail and shy, she only blossoms when she is singing. You can almost feel her growing on the stage as she comes out of herself, and finds a way to express her anger and frustration. The songs are carefully picked too, and echo her own feelings and circumstances, and she delivers them beautifully.
The clever set designed by Colin Richmond works very well too – a framework house, allowing the audience to clearly see what it happening in any of the rooms, and at the same time reminiscent of a cage, as though the characters are trapped by their environment. This is a play about the voiceless finding their voice, and about escape. It is written with a lot of humour, so the punches, when they come, are all the more hard-hitting. Well-directed and well-observed, it is in turns comic, poignant and grotesque, yet with a lot of heart, and surely one of the classics of modern British drama. Don’t miss it.
Runs until 30th May| PhotoKeith Pattison