The Rise and Fall of Little Voice Review

Jim Cartwright’s hit play The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is just as relevant today as it was in the 90s (albeit these days Little Voice, otherwise known as LV, would no doubt be impersonating Adele and Beyonce!) The play follows timid LV as she struggles to cope with her irresponsible, terribly loud mother who seems incapable of listening to anyone but her own voice. When LV’s impressions are discovered by her mother’s latest squeeze, she’s catapulted into a world of performance she desperately doesn’t want to be in. Can LV find her true voice and stand her ground?

Christina Bianco is simply perfect as LV. It’s almost as interesting watching her mimic Jane Horrocks’ Lancashire accent (Bianco is American) as it is her impersonate some of the world’s greatest singers. Bianco is a known impressionist, and a very famous one at that, so to have the opportunity to see her sing live and showcase her unique talent really is a treat. It’s worth coming along to see the show for Bianco’s performance alone.

Shobna Gulati plays Mari Hoff, LV’s mother, with an overbearing cackle – and that’s exactly what the character needs. No wonder the rest of the characters can’t get a word in! Gulati’s Mari is loud, brash, crude and most of the time we really can’t believe she has anyone’s best interests at heart but her own. It makes her a tame villain of the piece, and someone we really will LV to stand up to.

Ian Kelsey plays his role as Ray Say with just the right balance between smarmy and kind-hearted. He’s a wannabe talent agent desperate to find the next big thing, and we see him genuinely struggle between wanting to see LV comfortable and happy and wanting to make some serious cash. Kelsey embodies the part of a rough-and-ready wide boy, and we’ve all seen blokes like him down the pub, which makes Ray Say the most believable character of the lot to me.

We’re drawn into LV’s world with Sara Perks’ simple yet sublime set – a small house with an alleyway just to the side. It’s all LV knows, and it’s all we know, apart from when the curtains come down in Mr Boo’s Club and she’s thrust into the spotlight with the audience as her audience. It’s a jarring contrast from the dingy house we spend most of our time in, but the set helps us to get to know this small, dysfunctional family intimately.

The play is beautifully written, showcasing working class life in a northern town and the search for fame, happiness and authenticity. The first half is more captivating by far as we hear teasing glimpse’s of LV’s talent impersonating the voices of legends such as Judy Garland and Lulu. Whilst the second half has a breathtakingly fabulous montage of Christina Bianco’s singing (who really does take the part of LV to new levels of awesome), it seems to peter out after that. The cast are fabulous in their roles, but the second half requires simmering tension to bubble over, and this happens slowly but surely rather than with a mighty crescendo.

Ultimately, we’re all here to see LV take to the stage and sing her heart out – and this show is absolutely full of soul. Catch The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at York Theatre Royal until 9th July.

Photograph credited to Pamela Raith

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