You can garner most of the information you need about this production of Little Voice from the image used on the publicity. Mari (Beverley Callard) and Billy (Ray Quinn) stare incredulously at a transformed Little Voice (Jess Robinson), mouths agape and eyebrows raised. Here, they are doing 'surprise'. Over the course of the evening, we will see 'shy', 'lairy', 'angry', even 'distraught', all approached with the same attitude, but there is no emotional connection, either between characters, or with the audience. The exception is Quinn, whose quiet, understated portrayal of Billy is a breath of fresh air, but his truthfulness is lost amongst the others' posturings.
The empty, brittle performances lose all the warmth and poignancy of Jim Cartwright's script, which is robbed of all its moments of significance. Its humour is reduced to the formula that Northern people are funny and fat Northern people funnier; admittedly an assumption that the Sheffield audience seem only too keen to endorse.
Robinson sings well and is an excellent impressionist, but while this would be enough to sustain Little Voice's club act, it cannot carry a two hour stage show, or the emotional arc of its central role. Robinson gurns and squirms her way through the character; a stereotype of awkward timidity.
The ensemble work well to create the atmosphere of Mr Boo's club, even playing bingo with the willing audience in the interval. But if this is the kind of evening you're after, you'll receive a warmer, more honest night out at one of our region's many social clubs.