Last Updated on 22nd June 2022
Paul T Davies reviews The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at the Mercury Theatre Colchester where it is playing as part of a UK Tour.
The Rise and Fall of Little Voice.
The Mercury Theatre, Colchester.
21 June 2022
Remarkably, and worryingly for us who saw the original production, Jim Cartwright’s innovative tale is now thirty years old, and celebrated in this touring production. Cowering in the shadows of her Monster Mother, LV, (Little Voice), is quiet of speech but loud in her impressions of her dead father’s record collection, capturing the divas he so loved. Overheard by cheap “showbusiness promotor” Ray Say, her mother’s new bloke, she is thrust into the spotlight. Cartwright’s play shows its age in the ribald humour and in the broad strokes of characterisations. It now reads as a play about bullying on many levels, and many scenes are uncomfortable. However, the play rises and falls on the casting of Little Voice, and this is the reason to see this production.
Christina Bianco, a star in her own right, is extraordinary as L V, not just in her cabaret talents, but in capturing the fragility of her situation and continued mourning for her beloved father. Her set, where she segues seamlessly from one star to another is extraordinary, her vocal stylings capturing perfectly Garland, Bassey, Holliday and many others. It’s so good, the rest of the play is rendered somewhat flat. Shobna Gulati plays mother Mari on one (shrieking) level, and moments to create some poignancy for the character are missed, though she is somewhat so broadly drawn it’s hard to feel any sympathy for her. Ian Kelsey is energetic, funny and just the right side of sleazy as Ray Say, a fine performance of the man’s desperation, and Fiona Mulvaney quietly steals scenes as put-upon neighbour Sadie, finding more levels to “okay” than thought possible!
The first night at Colchester lacked a lot of energy, the effects of a long tour perhaps showing, and the cast need to inject more pace into the show. Unclear diction was also an issue. What does become clear, without overstating, is that LV’s dad was gay, shown not just in the music he loves, but in the descriptions of him. And what shines even more is the gentle, slowly developing love between LV and Billy, (Ashay Gulati), and when LV finds her own voice at the end it’s beautifully moving and poignant. It’s in moments like this that Cartwright’s play still shines, and whilst the production doesn’t hit every note successfully, it’s worth it for Bianco.