Thursday, October 6

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice – Liverpool Playhouse

A Cinderella story where Cinders never wanted to go to the ball in the first place, and is much happier at home, listening to music in her PJs with a cup of tea thank-you-very-much, sounds like a very modern take for a fairy tale. Yet ‘The Rise and Fall of Little Voice’ has solidly morphed into period theatre.

Penned by Jim Cartwright, this regularly revived tale introduces us Laura ‘LV’ Hoff, a reclusive young girl who retreats from the world dominated by her brash and bawdy mother, Mari, preferring the company of her late father’s record collection of ‘diva’ songstresses – Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Shirley Bassey and more. Her hidden talent for mimicking the singers soon catches the ear of wannabe empresario Ray Say, who pushes LV to perform publicly.

The show’s success lives and dies with its casting. A huge amount of leg work is done by Shobna Gulati as Mari. She supremely commands the stage; flamboyant and flashy on a Primark budget, bringing twinges of sympathy for someone clearly frustrated at the poor hand she’s been dealt, despite her unlikeable, monstrous treatment of LV, and her sole friend-come-whipping boy, Sadie. Her delivery allows the poetic style in Cartwright’s writing to flow through.

She’s well matched by Ian Kelsey as Ray, who’s cheery and determined manipulation of LV is so keenly felt, you can practically see pound signs in his eyeballs. He is convincingly charming right up to the point desperation turns to a moment of violence that prompts shocked gasps from the audience.

Akshay Gulati (Shobna’s son) is sweet without being overly saccharine as Billy, the phone engineer who befriends LV, and Fiona Mulvaney as Sadie helps deliver a lot of the show’s physical comedy – although Mari’s constant fat-shaming of her jars with the modern theatregoers. William Ilkley invokes plenty of nostalgia for the classic working men’s clubs of the North as compere Mr Boo.

That leaves LV and, in Christina Bianco, director Bronagh Logan got her girl. Renowned for YouTube content doing ‘diva’ impressions, Bianco’s own nickname is ‘the girl of 1000 voices’ which is used to superb effect here. Bursts of Liza Minelli, Streisand and Bassey are flawless and precise, especially when delivered A Capella. Petite in stature, her account of LV’s shy, introverted nature is also well delivered, which makes her mighty vocals all the more satisfying.

Sara Perks’ set design gives our ensemble an effective working space whilst evoking the crumbling poverty that engulfs their lives. With the input of Nic Farman and Andrew Johnson’s lighting and sound design respectively, we get some real moments of theatrical flair, especially when the electrics pack in, with startling ‘flash bang’ regularity.

The danger for ‘Little Voice’ is that, despite timeless themes of class, poverty and aspirations for a better life, it is inescapably rooted in its late 80s/early 90s setting and its ‘old age’ is getting more and more pronounced.

For all the skill of the cast, it’s the recognition of working-class life and the characters within it that brings the show home for an audience. And our institutional memory is arguably shrinking away. Is it possible that the show might be, sadly, creeping towards an expiration date?

At least for tonight though, and quite a few more to come, with a phenomenal celebration of music peppered throughout, the audience can sit back and enjoy this snapshot of life at its entertainingly dysfunctional best.

Little Voice is at the Liverpool Playhouse until Saturday 21st May. For tickets visit The Rise and Fall of Little Voice visit https://www.everymanplayhouse.com/whats-on/the-rise-and-fall-of-little-voice

Reviewer: Lou Steggals

Reviewed: 16th May 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★

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