EXETER – NORTHCOTT THEATRE
THE RISE & FALL OF LITTLE VOICE by Jim Cartwright
EXETER NORTHCOTT THEATRE– 01392 726363
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 4 APRIL 2022
Jim Cartwright’s hit play first hit the stage in 1992; written for actor Jane Horrocks, it found popularity on stage and on the big screen as a result, but it is a curates egg in so many ways. At times painful to watch and at others the story enters farcical territory.
The tale of a young woman (‘Little Voice’), bullied by her widowed mother, finding solace in her father’s vinyl collection through which she expresses herself, takes a little while to get going. The Mother is an alcoholic sex addict, she obviously treated her husband the same way she treats her daughter – she is deeply troubled and not very nice. On the face of it her ‘lover’, the music promoter Ray Say, is rather more sympathetic till you realise that as he discovers Little Voice’s talent, then he is only in it for himself; as is Mr Boo, the comedian/club front man.
Shobna Gulati throws herself into the role of the Mother, Mari, and effectively creates a flawed woman spiralling out of control, though at times she is too quietly spoken. Ian Kelsey gives a fine performance as the vain and two-faced Ray Say. Any actor cast as ‘Little Voice’ needs to have a magnetism when virtually mute and an amazingly versatile singing voice; American actress Christina Bianco more than fulfils the brief – the song montage in the second half is captivating.
There is fine work also from William Ilkley as a splendidly ghastly ‘Mr Boo’ and from Fiona Mulvaney as Mari’s friend and neighbour Sadie; virtually mute and also bullied by Mari, she is one of the more sympathetic characters. As the means of escape for Little Voice and the conduit for her to find her own real voice, Akshay Gulati provides a delightfully warm and kind performance as Billy.
As mentioned, this is not always a comfortable play to watch; many theories have undoubtedly been written about the nature of Little Voice’s condition – is it just the result of mistreatment? What about Sadie? Does she suffer from something similar? Maybe we don’t need to know.
Music throughout sets the scene and the period well and the two-level set of Little Voice’s rundown home is really well observed and crafted by Sara Perks. Lighting throughout is fine, but some sound balancing issues meant the backing tracks occasionally muffled Christina Bianco’s singing voice – hopefully an issue which can be corrected.
This is a fine production of a play which leaves many questions behind. After the initial slow start, the production gets into its stride in the second half where there is more emotional involvement. Humorous moments punctuate the narrative, but they are humour with a sour edge in the main. Director Bronagh Lagan brings out some excellent performances from the small cast, but throughout I felt there was a depth lacking in the overall story. That said, if you have not seen this play before, this is rare chance to see it done with a cast who deserve the plaudits they received.
CAST & CREATIVES
LITTLE VOICE – CHRISTINA BIANCO
MARI – SHOBNA GULATI
RAY SAY – IAN KELSEY
BILLY – AKSHAY GULATI
SADIE – FIONA MULVANEY
MR BOO – WILLIAM ILKLEY
PHONE MAN – JAMES ROBERT MOORE
WRITER – JIM CARTWRIGHT
DIRECTOR – BRONAGH LAGAN
SET & COSTUME DESIGN – SARA PERKS
LIGHTING DESIGN – NIC FARMAN
SOUND DESIGN – ANDREW JOHNSON
MUSICAL SUPERVISOR – EAMONN O’DWYER