By Hilary Cordery
So of course I’d seen the film of Jim Cartwright’s “The Rise and Fall of Little Voice”, with the fabulous Jane Horrocks in the leading role, so I knew the story: shy, introverted Little Voice (“LV”), still mourning the loss of her father, seeks solace in his old vinyl record collection, listening to the divas of yesteryear, such as Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland and Edith Piaf, who she can imitate perfectly. When her mother begins dating club agent Ray Say, who hears her sing, Ray realises that he has a huge hit on his hands, if only he could persuade LV to perform………..
It’s a big show, in no sense little, and as the curtain rose I found myself wondering whether director Wayne Sheridan and his cast and crew were going to be able to pull it off, (no reference to the next main house show intended). Happily, and with just one or two quibbles, they did so convincingly.
As the director noted in the programme, the show was originally written expressly as a vehicle for Horrocks, and it is indeed a show that largely stands or falls on the performance of LV. In her debut on the main BLT stage, Beth Boxall rose admirably to the challenge. With a smashing singing voice I could only marvel at her different diva guises, wonderfully expressed in the club scene where she finally gives full and public expression to her singing talents, and indeed where LV finds her voice. I did feel that Boxall could have inhabited the emotional life of her character a little fuller, particularly as regards LV’s crippling, debilitating shyness, which I didn’t think was fully realised. But I am being picky. Overall, this was an extremely impressive debut performance by a very talented young actress.
As the shambolic, self-centred, alcoholic mother Mari Hoff, Julie Binysh excelled. I have seen Binysh in many BLT productions over the years but this was one of her finest performances in my view. She fizzed with energy, and her comic timing was excellent. I was also genuinely moved when Mari’s world fell apart towards the end, no mean feat considering that Mari is such a cow to her daughter and generally pretty obnoxious! A fully-realised and impressive characterisation by Binysh.
As Ray Say, Richard Kinderman, also new to the BLT stage, successfully captured the charm and smarm of a man intent on his own self-agrandisement, irrespective of who he tramples on along the way. I rightly felt the two-faced sleaze of the man in Kinderman’s portrayal, but I would have liked Ray to have been louder, bigger – I wasn’t completely convinced that Mari would have gone for Ray. But this was nonetheless a fine debut performance by Kinderman.
The leading characters were very ably supported. Keith Dunn gave a lovely, Bernard Manning-esque portrayal of club owner Mr Boo, and Phil Cairns was super as shy, awkward Billy whose sweet, tender scenes with LV were amongst my favourite in the show. But as Mari’s long-suffering neighbour Sadie, Roxana Graves really shone. With little dialogue to work with, Graves made the most of every line she had, (the audience loved her repeated “OKs”, as did I ), and she beautifully caught the physicality of her character. A great job.
Costumes were thoughtfully and appropriately chosen throughout, and I particularly liked Mari’s numerous 1990’s outfits, all in the worst possible taste! I did think though that Mari could have been a little more dishevelled and unkempt in her appearance, so as to match her character.
The double storey set was very well designed by Andy Howell and was beautifully dressed, perfectly capturing a northern working class home, (loved the bedspread, brought back memories!). Howard Binysh and Emma Christmas did a great job with creating atmospheric lighting, particularly in the club scenes which looked great, and Emma Christmas must get a specific mention for terrific special effects – exploding phone lines made me jump every time, and the fire was a real wow moment!
If I have one criticism though it would be of the set-dressing post-fire – throwing grey cloth over the sofa and other parts of the set didn’t feel enough to me to symbolise a burnt-out shell of a house, and in fact I found it distracted from the emotion of the scenes that followed.
But it wouldn’t be right or fair to end on a negative. This was a funny, moving and poignant production, which I enjoyed very much, and which absolutely deserved the cheers of the audience on the night I saw the show. Very well done to all involved.