Friday, January 27

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice –Theatre Royal Wakefield

Looking forward to an evening of Comedy- Drama, one of Britain’s greatest modern plays whilst initially appearing superficial is anything but, with its dark and subversive message underpinning the blatant humour. Jim Cartwright’s Golden Globe winning 1998 film of Little Voice (written to showcase the vocal talents of Jane Horrocks) was originally proceeded by the 1992 Olivier award winning stage release. This is the story of trying to find your own voice in a world of desperate noise.

Sara Perk’s imposing set is impressive, replicating a two-storey dilapidated terrace house, where we see both upstairs and down concurrently (it took 12 hours to erect the stage manager told me, a tall order on a touring production). The 80’s touches of furniture and décor and are just right, and the conception is fully realised and utilised by the cast under the direction of Bronagh Lagan and Resident Director James Robert Moore. Added moments of escaping through upstairs windows adds to the realism. Only on two occasions do we change location to the interior of Mr Boo’s working men’s club, this is quite enlightening as it is done simply by flying in a gaudy shimmer curtain around an archway topped off with wonky letters that spell ‘Mr Boo’s’. This really does highlight the world that lacks substance but also, the completely contrasting yet positively isolating dreamlike world LV is forced into as we become her working men’s club audience. We are teased as an audience with snippets of Little Voice’s singing in Act One, but it is in Act two we finally hear the full diva powerhouse, and it is worth the wait!

The production is beautiful yet brutal and satirically sad. Cartwright’s sharply observed show is a gift for the two leading ladies of Little Voice (LV) and her outlandishly crass mother Mari Hoff who are central to this Northern fairy-tale.  LV has given up trying to be heard in a world dominated by the brash noise and chaos of her home life and takes solace in her late father’s vinyl record collection of iconic female singers and embodies their performances… in private. The two central characters could not be more different. Mari played by Shobna Gulati portrays the brashly vulgar, self-centred, booze fuelled, thrill seeking mother who has no understanding of her child, LV’s unassuming and quiet life.  Enter into their life Ray Say, a budding impresario, who hears LV’s astonishing impersonations and makes it his mission to bring her to the stage…. in public. Ian Kelsey plays the role of Ray and gives the production a wonderfully ‘real’ grounding, his performance is the perfect mix of sensitivity and misdirected desperation. I particularly found the role of Mari’s friend, Sadie played by Fiona Mulvaney hilarious… look out for the ‘pop socks’ and the dancing to Jackson 5! Akshay Gulati as Billy who attempts to befriend LV, bridges some of the gap between the personalities on stage and adds the much needed crutch for LV.

There really are some stellar performances in this production and the casting is perfect, but none more perfect than Christina Bianco as Little Voice. From small in stature, unassuming girl to Hollywood/Broadway Diva, Bianco hits the bullseye every time. Her range of mannerisms and facial expressions are beautiful at solidifying her shyness and timidity. Bianco is simply stunning both emotionally and vocally – she completely blew me away, an extraordinary performance! In my opinion, a more emotive and contrasting performance than the original.  Her impersonating medley of the classics by Shirley Bassey, Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, Cilla Black, Edith Piaf and Marilyn Monroe is jaw dropping.

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is touring the UK and is at the Theatre Royal Wakefield until Saturday 28th May. Do not miss this gritty northern fairy-tale, one to make you laugh and cry simultaneously, and most of all do not miss this perfect casting, outstandingly led by Christina Bianco.

Reviewer: Tracey Bell

Reviewed: 23rd May 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★