Jim Cartwright's The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is a faded picture of a disappearing Northern England, a place where the dark Satanic mills have been replaced with endless factories and where the social club is where the heart is. Here, the familiar familial structures of yesteryear have broken down – the bairns raise themselves like a well-proven loaf of Hovis whilst mam dances around her handbag.
And here, in a terraced home that makes Jim Royle's house look palatial, we find "Little Voice", a shy and introverted girl who locks herself in her room listening to her dead father's Judy Garland records. Her alcoholic mum stomps in and out of her life in silver high-heels, smashing her confidence and keeping her in her place with a series of cutting and cruel one-liners.
But "LV" finds a voice in the greats and soon this little sparrow sings like Piaf, belts like Bassey and pouts like Monroe. Enter a sleazy working men's club promoter and you have a dramatic plot worthy of Christmas time on Coronation Street.
Speaking of which, ex-Corrie star Beverley Callard has escaped the Rovers and found herself a spot on the stage, performing well as the hard-drinking and hard-hearted mother of "Little Voice." A woman with roots as dark as her soul who wears mascara like war-paint, the character is the quintessence of bad mothering: foul mouthed, cruel to her daughter and socially irresponsible, her part in proceedings makes "Mommie Dearest" look like a love letter to maternity written for Mother's Day.
Her portrayal of a woman on the verge of a lonely decline into a old age is somehow full of a familiar Lancashire spirit, vulgar and jocular to the last, even as her world is crumbling around her. But whilst Callard manages to find the comedy in the character, her performance is somewhat lacking in emotive pathos, an engagement with the true malice of the character, particularly in the dramatic denouement of the play.
As "Little Voice", "the girl with stars queuing up in her gullet", Jess Robinson is fantastic, timid and fragile, vulnerable and controlled. There is a beautiful restraint and grace in her performance which explodes with fire and vengeance in the final scenes of the play. And she does a mighty good impression of La Streisand too.
Despite this, this production of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, is at times painfully slow. Some of its scenes have very little dynamism and, though the source material is good, the addition of new material makes the evening seem unnecessarily long and, to even to a fan of the film and of the play, at times turgid. Nonetheless, there are moments of beauty in the simplicity of the play's language in the early scenes and in the poetic flare of the collapse of it all in the second half.
Barack Obama said that one voice could change the world. Though this little voice will not change the world, it could well change a few frowns to smiles.