THE RISE AND FALL OF LITTLE VOICE
Malvern Theatres, Monday 8th October, 2012
Jim Cartwright’s in-your-face contemporary fairytale is doing the rounds in this colourful and lively production, which he also directs. It is a fabulously funny night out – to paraphrase John McGrath.
As the audience filed into the elegant Festival theatre in well-heeled Great Malvern, a compere in gold lame jacket cracks jokes and introduces some turns: a spoon-player, a female George Formby impersonator; plunging us into the working men’s club that will feature in the story later on. There is even a raffle – some lucky bugger behind me won the prize jar of pickled gherkins. It all serves to set the tone for a raucous and riotous couple of hours.
The set is a doll’s house, more Fisher Price than Henrik Ibsen, the two-up, two-down residence of Mari (Beverley Callard) and her taciturn daughter, the eponymous Little Voice. Beverley Callard gives the performance of her career in this grotesque caricature of her onscreen persona. Mutton dressed as a parrot. But it’s not all boozing and swearing. There is a kind of poetry to Cartwright’s dialogue, most noticeable in Mari’s lines (perhaps because she speaks the most!). The heightened language and the characters’ names add to the fairytale aspects of the play. This is not gritty realism.
Ray Quinn, the telephone engineer’s mate, is the boyish Prince, who visits Little Voice at her bedroom window as though she is Rapunzel. It’s a sweet portrayal among all the larger-than-life characters. Sally Plumb is excellent as Mari’s big friend Sadie, using her physical presence to great comic effect. Joe McGann is a suitably smooth-talking as the self-serving agent, Ray Say, and Duggie Brown is in his element as club owner and compere Lou Boo.
But the night belongs to Little Voice. In her dramatic scenes, she is vulnerable and shy but when she is called upon to sing, Jess Robinson is nothing short of astonishing. She performs a medley, impersonating a wide range of divas in a dazzling display of vocal ability: Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Barbra Streisand, Tina Turner and even Cilla Black, to name just a few. It is like a whole series of Stars In Their Eyes condensed into ten minutes. And then, later, when Ray pushes her too far, Little Voice lets rip with an even more astounding barrage of impressions, flinging song lyrics at him in the appropriate voices with an almost machine-gun delivery. Brilliance.
As all fairytales should, this Cinderella story ends with the bad ones being brought down and the Princess getting her Prince. It’s been knockabout fun – there was even a game of bingo after the interval – and Cartwright pitches it perfectly. Working class drama doesn’t have to be anguish at the kitchen sink or trouble at mill, or indeed exclusive in its appeal.
The X Factor fodder who infest the entertainment industry (effectively replacing the old variety shows) haven’t the hard luck story of Little Voice, nor indeed a smidgeon of her talent. Go and see live shows, folks, and be uplifted rather than embittered.