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The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at Park Theatre | Review

Linford Johnson & Rafaella Hutchinson in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at Park Theatre. Photo by Ali Wright
Linford Johnson & Rafaella Hutchinson in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at Park Theatre. Photo by Ali Wright

In these days of social media, blogs, VLogs and Instagram millionaires, everyone is trying to get their voice heard above the mad cacophony of other voices out there. Being heard is so important to many people that sometimes those who are quiet or reticent get left behind, searching for their own way to make themselves special. This need to be yourself and be heard is at the heart of Jim Cartwright’s iconic play The Rise and Fall of Little Voice which has recently opened at the Park Theatre.

It is a big day in the Hoff family home in Scarborough, Yorkshire as today is the day that Mari Hoff (Sally George) joins the ranks of the ‘in-crowd’ and gets a phone line put into her house. Mari, is over the top excited about this, not least because she is expecting a call from her new beau, local theatrical agent Ray Say (Kevin McMonagle). Once the phone is installed by the engineer and his assistant Billy (Linford Johnson), Mari invites her best friend and confidant Sadie (Jamie-Rose Monk) over to see it. In fact, the only person not excited, or even interested in the family joining the ‘busby’ brigade, is Mari’s daughter Laura (Rafaella Hutchinson), also known as Little Voice or LV, who is happiest sitting in her room caring for and playing the collection of records left to her by her father. She loves the records by Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Marilyn Monroe, etc and has played them so often that she not only knows all of the words but also can imitate the voice of some of the greatest female singers of all time. LV is content when her mother leaves her alone but Mari is too much of a live wire to allow her daughter to be a shrinking violet and one evening, after a night on the town with Ray – with whom she has fallen head over high heels in love – Mari introduces the two of them and Ray makes a discovery that he believes will change all of their lives forever.

There are some interesting ideas in the narrative of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice that don’t really sit too easily in the twenty-first-century world. For example, during the interval, I was chatting to the young chap next to me who was unhappy that for both Mari and LV, their only chance of escape from their lives happened when men (Ray and Billy) arrived. In Mari’s case, she throws herself at Ray while LV allows Billy to get her away from things. I can understand the sentiment but, for a lot of northern working-class women of the time, society expected them to be under the ‘protection’ of a man if they were going to survive. So, the play is very much of its time but it is still quite a powerful piece of work and the multi-layered plot should not be dismissed too easily. Mari is quite a complex creature who it would be easy to dismiss as just a loud-mouthed, drunken, man-eater. Whilst she is a monster to her friends and her daughter, Mari is, to my mind, a sad lonely woman who hides her fears under a layer of makeup, gin and bravado. However, I have seen the play a couple of times and the movie lord knows how many, and despite understanding her, I’ve never felt any sympathy for Mari – even when she is at her lowest point. There is something about the writing of the character that just makes her, for me, totally unredeemable. And Sally George really brings Mari to life beautifully. This is a character that it is so easy to overplay – and Sally never falls into that trap, just keeping Mari on the right side of the line.

Of course, the other character that has to be spot on is LV. A quiet reclusive young girl who totally comes into her own when on the stage, and who finally gets to do what the audience have been praying she would. LV is multi-facets and, above all the actress playing her has to be able to sing and be recognisable as Judy Garland, etc. Rafaella Hutchinson – real life daughter of Susan George – pretty much delivers everything demanded of LV. She is quiet, shy unassuming and looks terrified and bewildered by almost everything going on around her. And then she sits in her bedroom, upstairs in Jacob Hughes nicely proportioned and good looking set, and gets out her records. You can see her face change to one of love as she tenderly cares for them wiping them gently before putting them on her old record player. But can she sing? Yes, she can. The first song is one of my absolute favourites, Judy Garland’s “The Man That Got Away“, and I was hooked on Rafaella’s singing from then on. No she doesn’t sound 100% like the originals but in the nightclub scene, she is perfection not only with the singing but in making LV shine. I did have some trouble warming to Kevin McMonagle’s portrayal of Ray Say. There’s something nasty about the character who is prepared to use everyone to get his way, but even when he was being ‘nice’ – such as telling LV the bluebird story, he felt a bit creepy to me. Jamie-Rose Monk may not say a lot as put-upon best friend Sadie, but she has a wonderful stage presence and I’m not sure I’ll ever recover from her attempt to do the splits. Linford Johnson brings a nice touch of innocence to the proceedings with his portrayal of Billy, a young man who sees much of himself in LV and is the only person that not only wants her to be herself but also gives her the space to do so.

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is an enjoyable play to go and see. Full credit to Director Tom Latter, Lighting Designer Matthew Carter and Designer Jacob Hughes for their skill in bringing LV’s house to life and filling it with well dressed – and in context – people. I especially loved/hated LV’s first stage costume, which only a mother like Mari could have picked. A special mention has to go to Sound Designer Max Perryment for not only the quality of the sound but also getting it to appear in the right physical location, as opposed to just blasting out from a couple of side-hung speakers.

Overall, I did quite like The Rise and Fall of Little Voice. It is nicely put together and performed and the mother and daughter combination – in real life as well as on the stage – works nicely to produce a well-honed intelligent show with some absolutely first-rate music.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

A timid and brilliant young woman, Little Voice has a hidden talent – she can sing like the greatest divas of the 20th Century. Living a lonely life in a northern town, all she wants is to feel safe in her room with her records. No chance with mother Mari on the rampage – she’s after booze, a man, a greasy breakfast, and a working phoneline. When local impresario Ray forces Little Voice into the spotlight, her transformation astounds everyone. Then the battle between mother and daughter truly erupts. Funny, brutal, beautiful and sad, Jim Cartwright’s timeless and ultimately uplifting tale is a comic tragedy about finding your voice in a noisy world.

Mother and daughter duo Rafaella Hutchinson and Sally George are to be the first ever family pairing to star as the reclusive Little Voice and meddling mother Mari in Jim Cartwright’s play.

THE RISE AND FALL OF LITTLE VOICE
Venue: Park200, Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, N4 3JP
Dates: 16 August – 15 September 2018
Age guidance: 12+
Performances: Mon to Sat Evenings 7.30pm, Thu & Sat Matinees 3.00pm. Captioned performance Wed 5 Sep 19.30
Running time: 2 hr 10 mins approx. including interval
https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/

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