I suspect most people will come to The Rise and Fall of Little Voice only having encountered it in the 1998 cinematic adaptation. As ever, in the transition from stage to screen a number of significant changes were made and in this case, I would argue that Jim Cartwright's script is weaker than the screenplay that was derived from it.
But perhaps I ought to start with the positives from what was a disappointing evening.
Lauren Hood does an excellent job as LV – she captures the damaged fragility of the character excellently and is blessed with a very strong voice which adapts well to the different voices she is called on to imitate. The most successful scene in the play is where she suffers a breakdown and her fractured mind flits from song to song, singer to singer. This she does with enormous skill and provides a very moving moment for the audience.
Of the supporting case, Lisa Riley and Philip Hill-Pearson make notable contributions. Riley has very few words to say, but she uses her expressive face and physicality to great effect. Hill-Pearson captures his character very nicely and brings the right amount of naïve charm to the role.
Turning to the technical side of the production, the lighting design (Douglas Kuhrt) is particularly striking – coping well with the demands of the text and creating some effective moments throughout. The design by Susannah Henry is very ingenious in trying to portray all the various scenes that Cartwright requires. However the many transitions between the house and the club are frequently rather clunky and distracting.
There are moments in Hannah Chissick's direction when things do come together and are genuinely involving. However these moments are too few and far between. At times, there is a lack of attention to detail which again distracted me from engaging with the characters. There is also, I would argue, too much of a focus on physical activity rather than exploring the emotional truth of the scenes.
I appreciate that Mari, the mother, is supposed to be a monstrous individual but, in order for the audience to follow her through the play, we have to feel something other than revulsion. I feel that the interpretation of this huge role is misjudged and consequently we are completely alienated from her and thus distanced from the piece as a whole.
Cartwright is a much-admired writer and there are moments in the script when I can see why. He has a good ear for dialogue and a real instinct for comedy. However when he reaches for a more heightened language (such as in a number of Mari's extended speeches), he seems to miss the emotional mark and it seems arch rather than true to the character.
Having enjoyed the film, I had very high hopes for Hull Truck's production. However the combination of the writing and the interpretation of the central character made it impossible for me to become fully involved in the piece. Others in the audience clearly enjoyed the experience more than I did – as is their right. For me, though, it remains a disappointing night in the theatre – only partially redeemed by some good character acting and some fine singing.