Writer: Jim Cartwright
Director: Bronagh Lagan
We are all familiar with the iconic 90’s film, based on Jim Cartwright’s play, featuring a star-spangled cast of British acting royalty. Brenda Blethyn as the overbearing mother Mari Hoff, Michael Caine as scoundrel Ray Say, as well as Jim Broadbent, Ewan McGregor, Annette Badland and of course Jane Horrocks in the titular role of Little Voice, who also originated the iconic role for stage back in ‘92, under the direction of Sam Mendes. So, it must have been a challenge to assemble a cast today, to fill such shoes when taking the stage version on a UK tour, but props to whoever cast this piece as they have smashed it out of the park assembling this company.
It’s a real Cinderella story, with Christina Bianco, of YouTube and international musical theatre fame, taking on the role of LV – her timid characterisation strikingly familiar to Horrocks’. Her hauntingly accurate Judy Garland impersonation in Act One teases a preview of the impressions to come; a feast of legends from LV’s vinyl portfolio, come to life, all of which impeccable. Such a role demands a versatile transformational actress, and that is well and truly found in Bianco. As you watch her you cannot help but think “of course, she had to play this role.” The audience are absolutely fixated on her as she displays her vocal talents in a medley of musical icons at the climatic spectacle. Garland, Bassey and Streisand being her strongest and wow… they bring the house down! Her physicality as reclusive LV is endearing, drawing the audience in, providing a real authentic and believable unwillingness to take to the stage, thus creating a delectable contrast whenever she decides to share her gift.
In complete contrast to Bianco’z LV, Gulati’s mean matriarch Hoff is full of silliness and tomfoolery, serving the narrative in true evil Step-Mother fashion. She is crass, vulgar and despite her petite structure packs a powerful and mighty presence. Her skill of comedic physicality is pure sitcom (reminding us of her breakout role in Dinnerladies) as she dons last night’s smeared lipstick, sequin spangled shoulder pads and a head full of lacker. But her complex characterisation is more than it’s stiletto-wearing shell. She inhabits Mari in a way that you can almost smell the booze on her breath. Despite her garish exterior and Gulati’s display of masterful comedy chops, her Mari is layered and dimensional and it’s apparent her broken heart is at the root of her complex nature. She handles Cartwright’s text with precision, hitting home that Mari is actually a rather unexpected talented linguist, adding to the theme of crushed dreams and missed opportunity. All the while, Gulati revels in the characters insecurity, earning sympathy in her downfall. A victim of her time and circumstances.
Ian Kelsey takes his Ray Say on a real journey and his performance is absolutely spot on. He truly understands his characters role and purpose in this story. At first, a somewhat lovable rogue but later revealing he’s all along been a manipulative, volatile, liar evoking pure horror from the audience, a big bad wolf in sheep’s clothing to continue the fairytale analogy. Fiona Mulvaney’s Sadie is delectable, providing laugh out loud comedy thanks to her genius comedy timing and bold physicality. Her partnership with Gulati is joyous to watch.
The production maintains relevance for a modern audience through the setting’s economic climate, nodding to today’s prevailing economy. It’s a story of oppressed women, suffering at the hands of manipulative men. Bronagh Lagan’s direction makes for seamless storytelling. This production would be right at home on a West End stage or even across the pond. It’s northern roots a real charm, capturing the world of the social clubs and culture of the late 80’s/early 90’s. Sara Perks’ detailed set provides the perfect dishevelled carcass for this unique drama, combining kitchen sink with sitcom, farce with melodrama, and all sprinkled with the glitz of cabaret – a combo making a riotous night out at the theatre.
The show may centre around timid Little Voice, but this production stomps its way into the Lowry commanding a loud, rapturous applause. A very well-deserved standing ovation for this company who revel in their characters, aiding utmost investment from their audience. In a theatrical climate where successful box office sales seem to be associated with glitzy concert style musicals, it would be a testament to the quality of first-class British theatre to see this revival sell out… get yourself a ticket, it does not disappoint.
Runs until Saturday 11 June