Friday, January 27

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice – Blackpool Grand

Jim Cartwright’s 90’s hit “The Rise and Fall of Little Voice” tells the story of one talented girl and her reluctant rise to stardom in her local Northern town. It feels fitting to be back in Blackpool, surrounded by cabaret bars and illuminations, and this production deserves to be bringing in all the crowds here.

This Olivier award winning play has had many revivals including a film starring Jane Horrocks and Michael Caine. It’s easy to see why, as the story of Little Voice is a charming tale of family, humour and small town dreams.

At the heart of the play is LV herself; a young recluse who constantly listens to her late father’s record collection. Overheard imitating the divas she adores, LV is forced to perform and struggles to find her own voice in the chaos and noise.

The stage is set with a streetlight flickering and an open doll house, decorated with dirty furniture and mess. With the majority of scenes taking place in this house, the actors and the technical choices set the atmosphere. For example, a sparkly curtain descends, and we are in Mr Boo’s club where the tone is completely uplifted by William Ilkley’s performance. They are simple choices but are definitely effective.

Christina Bianco (Forbidden Broadway) as LV deserves a standing ovation for her Shirley Bassey impression alone. From the first time we hear her sing The Man That Got Away in the classic, rounded tone of Garland, she captivates. There are many moments in the play where applause is more than deserved, and yet feels inappropriate at that point in the narrative.  But whilst I can revel in her singing talent incessantly, her acting is also top notch and the character’s emotional journey hits home.

Ian Kelsey (Casualty) as “man about town” Ray Say, is the perfect casting choice. With a strut and a swagger, he gets the audience on side, as everyone knows a chancer like Ray. His confident front is constantly being tested and Kelsey plays on this throughout.

Shobna Gulati (Coronation Street) stumbles and screeches all over as Mum, Mari. She’s an unbearable drunk and yet, Gulati does bring her vulnerability to the forefront. Lamenting over her late husband and disappointing daughter, Gulati manages to walk the tightrope of playing a charismatic yet flawed character and gets the audience laughing from the get go.

I would also like to acknowledge the great performances of the supporting cast.

Akshay Gulati (The Family Way) as Billy is a lovable young lad, whose naivety and charm match up to Bianco’s Little Voice well. Fiona Mulvaney (The Ferryman) is brilliant as suffering friend Sadie, and Ilkley (War Horse) gives a dynamic and entertaining performance as Mr Boo.

It is difficult to know whether to laugh or feel sympathy for the characters’ misfortunes. The play straddles the line between comedy and drama, and the direction of Bronagh Lagan is successful in showcasing both its laughs and touching moments. It’s a heart-warming night at the theatre, and I’d grab a ticket whilst I could if I were you!

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice must close at Blackpool Grand on Saturday,

Reviewer: Coral Mourant

Reviewed: 15th June 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★