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The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (Hornchurch)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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The three women who are at the centre of Jim Cartwright's bitter comedy The Rise and Fall of Little Voice take control of the stage in Bon Carlton's new production for the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch. That's not to say that the men who in their very different ways manipulate them aren't equally well played – they are. But it's the women who count.

Little Voice (LV) herself, the daughter grieving her relationship with her late father, treasuring his golden-oldie record collection and only coming to life when she sings, is given flesh and blood by Kate Robson-Stuart. She's credibly subdued as the now-neglected daughter and ferociously full-voiced as she vocalises as the women singers she idolises.

Then there's blowsy Mari, her brassy mother, tippling endlessly as she tries to snare a new man. Anna Skye has a nice line in raucous cackles and is equally adept at over-the-top blowsiness. Her put-upon neighbour, intellectually-challenged Sadie, is made moving as well as funny by Bibi Nerheim; it's a difficult role very well realised.

Currently in Mari's sexual and matrimonial sights is Ray Say. He sees the financial potential in LV's vocal prowess, burns his fingers badly in the process and takes it all out on Mari – just an easy lay and never a long-term partner. Simon Jessop makes him nastily understandable. LV's one possible chance of escape is shy electrician Billy (Elliot Harper). Harper makes it plain that this is an unlikely fairy-tale ending.

Mr Boo is the club manager who books LV and has to live with the consequences. Carlton's production places the club scenes in front of tabs with David Morley Hale manipulating the real-life audience as his character might the fictional one. Christopher Howcroft's lighting design involves complex stage management to good effect.