MALVERN Theatre was quite star-studded when it hosted the press night for the official tour of ‘The Rise and Fall of Little Voice’ last night.
The luminary audience included a rare appearance by the show’s award winning writer, Jim Cartwright.
Cartwright wrote ‘Little Voice’ back in the early 90s – it premiered at the National Theatre in 1992 – and it is a testament to his writing genius that it has enjoyed several reincarnations over the past three decades, including of course the smash hit Michael Caine/Jane Horrocks film.
This latest version of this Northern saga fairly bounces along – moving in the blink of an eye through the whole theatrical spectrum, from high drama to full-on farce – bringing with it wet eyes – tears of sadness and laughter in equal measure.
Designer Sara Perks’ two-storey set fills every inch of the Malvern stage – right up into the fly tower where clouds hover ominously over the sliced-down-the-middle town house of significance. It’s a solid construction and a good job too as the action is as physical as the dialogue is sharp and raw.
Outside the front door of the house (where it is permanently foggy) is the street complete with street lamp. Inside the house, the attention to period detail is spot on retro.
The plot concerns Mari, a drunken slut of an abusive mother and her reclusive daughter LV, aka Little Voice. Mari parties bawdily, sordidly and nigh-on permanently whilst LV cloisters in her bedroom finding solace in mimicking the classic voices on old records her deceased father left her.
Shobna Gulati goes full throttle as Mari bringing much merriment. Perhaps too much so at times as occasionally, where there should be poignancy, we get parody. It is a gem of a role in which some hallowed feet have walked and Gulati has all the makings of joining them – just take the foot off the peddle and join it up a tad.
Christina Bianco is remarkable as Little Voice – after all it requires not just an actress or a singer or even a combination of the two but add the word impressionist to complete the triangle.
Bianco has all three – we feel her pain, love her voice and are completely overawed by her mimicking mini-concert. Close your eyes and there’s everyone from Shirley Bassey to Marilyn Monroe on the stage with her.
Ian Kelsey is just the job as Northern wide-boy would-be impresario Ray Say. He’s as loathsome as Mari but where she’s malevolent he’s manipulative.
Kelsey is a joy, leaving behind his soap star background and oozing seediness and believability.
Fiona Mulvaney adds an excellent dollop of comedic gait delivered with great timing as Mari’s next-door neighbour and groupie whilst Akshay Gulati brings authenticity to Billy, the love-struck telephone engineer who is the only nice person in LV’s life.
Making up the team as club owner Mr Boo is William Ilkley and ‘best of order’ he indeed brings to the proceedings.
Bronagh Lagan has directed with a more obvious interpretation than a subtle one and whilst that works for the most part, I felt there were moments when less would have meant more.
Press night wasn’t perfect – but nothing that can’t be fixed. Cartwright should be pleased with what he saw, there were moments to gasp, to gulp and just relish such as LV’s star-spangled ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ scene.
In essence what’s not to enjoy? This voice should be seen as well as heard.
The show runs until Saturday, April 16. Click here for times, tickets and more information.
Review by Euan Rose
Euan Rose Reviews