DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice – The Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Writers:  Jim Cartwright

Director: Paul Robinson

Designer: Tim Meacock

Composer/Musical Director: Simon Slater

Reviewer: Rob Atkinson

When a production receives a spontaneous standing ovation, as The Rise and Fall of Little Voice so deservedly did at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre, then the mere words of a review can only restate the obvious: here was a resounding success based on a compelling story, a great script, imaginative and well-paced direction and – above all – consummate performances from the well-cast players.

Polly Lister, in the pivotal role of LV’s mother Mari Hoff, gave us a wonderfully garrulous and demonstrative bawd, who happily devolved the trickier motherly duties to her lumpen friend Sadie while pursuing her own earthy pleasures. This was an energetic and gritty performance which ran the gamut from manic self-interest to broken betrayal and ultimate parental failure. 

Serena Manteghi, as LV herself, spent much of her onstage time blasted by the gale of her mother’s personality. Small wonder, then, that LV is a girl in full retreat into her own private world, bolstered by memories of her late father and their shared love of Garland, Monroe and other such legends. LV’s singing talent, with its added ingredient of flawless mimicry, allows her to take refuge in the personas of her musical heroines. Ms Manteghi’s portrayal is sensitive, poignant yet vocally outstanding, the two sides of LV’s character done equal justice by an actor who clearly understands her character very well.

LV is cared for as a person, rather than as a possible path to fortune, by two people above all; soulful telephone engineer Billy, played sympathetically by Gurjeet Singh, and the brilliantly bovine yet endlessly empathetic Sadie, admirably portrayed by Laura Crowhurst. It’s Billy, with his own obsessive preoccupation, who offers LV a glimmer of a realisation that there may be a world and some human contact for her out there, as well as in her own private musical fantasy. And Sadie is the nurturing presence who is there to catch LV when she falls or is trampled by Mari’s machine gun rhetoric. Ms Crowhurst succeeds brilliantly with minimal script involvement, drawing her character by gesture and timing, a marvellous performance.

Sean Mckenzie as talent scout Ray Say is another who has to travel a path between the two sides of his character’s personality. Ebullient and brash, Ray Say is determined to capitalise on the unexpected bonus of LV and her amazing gift, having expected only another easy conquest in the shape of the eagerly available Mari. He bends all of his persuasive talents towards getting LV to perform in public, while keeping Mari mollified with promises of romance, but his jovial exterior hides a darker aspect to his character. Mckenzie’s is a superbly convincing performance, eliciting laughter and later shock as Ray’s true colours emerge.

Last, but by no means least, is Mr Boo, Welsh nightclub impresario and the means whereby LV’s gift might reach a wider public. As the situation crumbles about him, Mr Boo tenaciously peddles his terrible jokes, schmoozing the audience in the hope that his act will turn up and save his reputation. Sion Tudor Owen, who also plays Billy’s telephone engineer boss, provides a great cameo – particularly in his stand-up routine with its well-managed audience interaction.

Paul Robinson’s well-paced direction and the disparate gifts of his talented cast combine to produce a terrific evening’s entertainment, encompassing many human frailties as well as a good few moments of hope and sweetness, to create a whole that works wonderfully well. The standing ovation was richly merited and this production can surely look forward to a triumphant run here in its spiritual home.

Runs until 19th August 2017 | Image: Sam Taylor

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