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Review: The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (Park Theatre)

Jim Cartwright's piece is revived at the north London venue with a real-life mother-daughter pairing as the two leads

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Rafaelle Hutchinson The Rise and Fall of Little Voice
© Scarlett Casciello

Jim Cartwright's The Rise and Fall of Little Voice has attracted some pretty big names to its central parts of Mari Hoff and her daughter LV over the years, with the likes of Jane Horrocks, Catrin Aaron, Denise Black, Lesley Sharp and Diana Vickers all taking on the roles. But this new production at the Park is more of a family affair, with a real-life mother and daughter – Sally George and Rafaella Hutchinson – taking on the lead roles in question for the first time in a professional revival.

Cartwright's 1992 classic piece follows LV, a young, quiet Scarborough girl with an undiscovered talent for musical impersonations – Garland, Monroe, Bassey, you name it, the timid agoraphobe is a walking, talking jukebox of hits. It's a talent rapidly exploited by her boozy, frenetic mother and flippant fling-turned-manager Ray. As LV's star shines brightly and briefly, the whole family comes crashing down.

This is a text about generations, the voicelessness of youth, and how young people are only listened to when they resort to playing by an older age's tune. Cartwright's plotting is tremendously prescient – as LV panics and blurts out cultural reference after cultural reference it doesn't feel too far removed from our own meme-ified lifestyles where every cultural occasion is an opportunity to create a GIF.

The mother-daughter casting is a neat gimmick that lends a few extra dimensions to the scenes. The apple clearly never falls far from the tree with both being solid performers – Mari, a livewire in a decaying house full of sparky electronics, is played with a haunted, crooked physicality by George while Hutchinson's impersonations are often uncannily well performed. Her major number in act two is exquisitely delivered. Kevin McMonagle treads a fine line between sweaty slime and sweet charm as Ray, while Jamie-Rose Monk goes some way towards stealing the show with a brilliant dance routine to "I Want You Back".

But Tom Latter's production feels as timid as its titular role sometimes – never trying anything too radical, letting the energy wane in the first act before rattling through the final scenes towards the end. Jacob Hughes' designs, with Mari's pad reimagined as a threadbare greenhouse, an empty skeletal husk, feels unhelpful – though definitely a symbol of decay, it makes the poverty of the Hoff's lives more abstract and unspecific.

Like some latter-day tale of Icarus and Daedalus, everything goes up in a blazing vision of fractious lives and interfamilial pain. Cartwright's language is as pressing and powerful as ever, delivered in a solid though largely pedestrian production up in north London.