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The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (tour - Eastbourne, Congress Theatre)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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One advantage when a writer directs his own play is that the subtleties, which may be almost concealed to others, come vividly to life, and this is certainly the case with Jim Cartwright’s The Fall and Rise of Little Voice. LV, as the lead character is known, is a complex person and, in this production, every facet of her is on display. Her vulnerability after losing her father, the comfort she finds in listening to his old record collection and, as the play moves on, her new-found courage and hope.

The play itself starts well before the advertised time with Duggie Brown as Mr Boo introducing some of the acts that regularly appear at his Working Men’s Club. The country’s only female George Formby impersonator and a spoon-playing/tap-dancing act start off the proceedings and certainly get the assembling crowd in the mood for a fun night. The raffle tickets, that we are all given as we enter the auditorium, add an extra dimension to the proceedings.

As the play begins in earnest we see Jess Robinson as LV hiding in her room. She is listening to, and miming along with, her father’s old recordings of some of the world’s greatest divas including Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Liza Minelli, Edith Piaf and Shirley Bassey. The volume is at full in order to try to drown out the drunken antics of her mother Mari Hoff, played at her coarse and vulgar best by Beverley Callard.

After the extremely dodgy wiring in the house blows all the fuses (yet again), Mari’s latest boyfriend, the club act promoter Ray Say, now played by Philip Andrew, hears LV impersonating the divas and he sets his mind on making her a star, whether she wants to be one or not. His manipulation of Mari is portrayed very well and, when he finally snaps in Act Two, he reveals this and then delivers the parting blow with tons of malice.

Ray Quinn is very believable as the shy and nervous telephone engineer Billy. From the moment that he meets LV, his awkward and embarrassed mannerisms emphasise the blossoming romance between them and, by displaying just enough of his scouse charm, it’s very easy to see why she would fall for him. The set is cleverly designed and, at the same time as appearing to be a run-down terraced house, it morphs into the working men’s club simply by using some very clever lighting effects behind transparent walls.

The highlight of the piece, as it was with the film version starring Jane Horrocks, is the moment when LV decides that, for one night only, she will take to the stage as all of the women that she admires so much. Her impersonations of the stars are spot-on and her wonderfully strong voice soars to incredible heights as she delivers a 15-minute barrage of hits by all the above-mentioned stars and which also features Lulu, Tina Turner and Cilla Black.

The final dramatic scenes are all played well and the technical crew deserve a special mention for creating some very authentic pyrotechnic, fire and smoke effects which make the demise of the terraced house very believable. This piece is gritty, heart-warming, funny, entertaining and sad in almost equal doses and, with Robinson’s vocal prowess to top it all off, offers a superb night of theatre.


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