Gloria Naylor wrote “You can’t teach talent. You can’t put in what God left out – but you can teach confidence.” That one sentence perfectly sums up the final production being put in in Southwark’s Union Theatre before it moves to its new home – Jim Cartwright’s The Rise and Fall of Little Voice.
In a northern town, Mari Hoff (Charlotte Gorton) is returning home from a night on the town. She is, not to put too fine a point on it, completely hammered. She is also very excited because this evening she had managed to ‘cop off’ with someone special. Unfortunately for Mari, the only other person at home is her shy daughter Little Voice (Carly Thomas) and LV – as she is known – isn’t interested. She just wants her mother to fall asleep so that she can go back to her bedroom and listen to her records which are in reality her life. LV inherited the records from her deceased father and spends all her time looking after and listening to them. In fact, she has heard them so much that she can now sing like the stars themselves. Shirley, Judy, Edith, Cilla, with no real effort, LV sounds like them all.
The next day, with hangover firmly under control, Mari stands watching as two BT employees install her new phone and connect her to the world. As she does when any man is around, Mari can’t resist flirting with the phone guys but the younger of the two, Billy (Glen Adamson), is unsurprisingly not interested. Quiet and introverted, Billy only shows a real sign of life as he runs into LV. Mari notices the two of them and can’t resist the opportunity to rib her daughter and embarrass her in front of Billy. But she soon forgets Billy and LV as she tells her best friend Sadie (Mandy Dassa) all about her conquest of the night before. She had met and ‘entertained’ local entrepreneur – well chap with a finger in a lot of pies – Ray Say (Ken Christiansen). Among Ray’s many businesses, he is a talent agent and one night he happens to hear LV singing and realises that she has a talent that he can exploit. Contacting local club owner Mr Boo (James Peake), Ray sets about convincing LV to show her talents to the world.
In some ways it’s a surprise that The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is nearly 25 years old. Jim Cartwright knows his Northern families and examples of the Hoof family still exist in some of the older, more traditional towns. Admittedly, Mari may be a bit of an exaggeration but she wouldn’t necessarily be too out of place in a working men’s club on a Saturday night. The narrative of the play is surprisingly complex. At first glance it looks like a domineering mother and subdued daughter tale rather like ‘Carrie’ but it is more complicated than that and, to my mind the majority of the play, really revolves around Mari. A working class woman whose glory days are long behind her but who hasn’t come to that realisation. She is loud, aggressive – both in her dealings with people and sexually – and ultimately a horribly self-centred person that treats her family and friends like dirt as she pursues her own path. Unfortunately, she meets and falls for Ray who is her personality doppelganger in his self-centred pursuit of his own dream. Charlotte Gorton was excellent in the role of Mari. Initially, I felt she was too over the top in her portrayal, but the realisation quickly set in that she wasn’t, this was Mari and this was the way she behaved. Her flirting, her awful treatment of her best friend – some lovely acting from Mandy Dassa as the downtrodden, accept her fate in life Sadie – which included some really vicious verbal putdowns and, above all, her treatment of her daughter which, in the real world, would have had social services on high alert. There is a fantastic example in the second act of the strength of the acting as Ray tells Mari some home truths. To sit there and watch her reaction to everything that was thrown at her was heartbreaking and no matter how much you disliked Mari up to that point, you couldn’t help but really feel sorry for her as her fantasy world came tumbling down. One final point while we are talking of Mari, I have to praise costume and set designer Libby Todd not only for providing a very authentic set but finding the most hideous, inappropriate and, for Mari if nobody else, appropriate clothing for poor Charlotte to wear.
At the opposite end of the personality scale to Mari, there was LV herself. Carly Thoms was perfect in the role as she introduced the audience to the bent shuffling, scared figure with the voice so quiet it was barely a whisper who, if you had seen her in the street, you probably wouldn’t have noticed. That this girl is the same character as the tall, proud, stunning creature belting out the hits in the nightclub is such an amazing feat of acting and speaks volumes about Carly’s intrinsic acting talent. The rest of the cast were great as well, though I personally thought that Ray should have been a bit more flashy in his dress and personality, especially when he was using Mari to get to LV. I loved the character of Billy, ready to climb up to LV’s window every night for an embarrassed chat about lighting and I have to say, I thought they made a great couple.
I think my one niggle with the show – and my companion and I totally disagreed on this – was the staging. Director Alistair Knights has staged the play in the round, which often works but, given the size of the performance space and the very small distance between the audience and the actors, occasionally led to a blocked view which, whilst not taking anything away from the production, was a bit of a distraction.
However ignoring this, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is a great play that both my companion and I thoroughly enjoyed. The acting was really good all the way through and I thought the ending was really sweet and touching, leading to a discussion afterwards about where the characters went from there – I went for a romantic ending whilst my companion was far more cynical about their future lives. Whatever the answer, you should get along and see it then make up your own minds.
Review by Terry Eastham
Sasha Regan In Association With Aaron Rogers presents THE RISE AND FALL OF LITTLE VOICE by Jim Cartwright. Directed by Alastair Knights.
Leading the cast is Charlotte Gorton (Memphis, Viva Forever!) as Mari Hoff, Ken Christiansen (Lord Of The Flies at Regents park, Inspector Calls at National Theatre/West End) as Ray Say, and Carly Thoms Other cast include: Glenn Adamson as Billy, Mandy Dassa as Sadie and (Thoroughly Modern Mille, Sound Of Music) as LV. James Peake as Mr Boo/Phone man.
The Olivier Award winning comedy tells the story of LV, a painfully shy girl who spends most of her time listening to her late father’s collection of old records and perfecting her astonishing impersonations of classic divas. But when her mother’s scheming boyfriend attempts to create the show of the century with Little Voice as its star – will all go according to plan? Or will LV find her voice in another way?
From June 2nd to June 26th
Tuesday – Saturday 7:30pm
Matinee Saturday & Sunday 2:30pm
Saturday 4th June 7:30pm