Tale of

a shy

diva

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

*****

FIRST of all, it's worth saying this is a first-rate cast. Beverley Callard in the main part of Marie, the larger-than-life, chatterbox, Manchester mother, gives a wonderful performance that takes us with her through the highs and lows of the action.

Jess Robinson (left) as Little Voice (always known as LV – we never learn her name) is amazing in the transition from silent, troubled teen to diva and back in the blink of an eye. Sadie (Sally Plumb) Marie's ever-present neighbour, is her perfect foil.

LV, Marie's daughter, has been silent all her life but more so since the death of her father who worshipped the divas; Shirley Bassey, Edith Piaf, Barbara Streisand, Tina Turner – you name them.

Her mother seriously disapproves of her, she never goes out. “Are you agoraphobical, cos if you are, you can clear off!” But in moments of stress LV sloughs off her usual whisper and out of her voice come perfect imitations of her father's favourite records.

It's a moment of stress when Marie's new conquest, Ray Say (Simon Thorp), arrives. LV, introduced as ‘useless', goes upstairs to sing.

He assumes it's a record; but no. And he has connections to the arts world – as a manager. His dream is to see her on stage in the local club; inviting Mr Boo (Duggie Brown) – who also acts as compere to this production – to hear her.

They intend to make her a star. But LV can't, won't or doesn't sing to order and becomes increasingly distressed. Her first attempt is a disaster and the Rawtenstall Working Men's Club is not usually that forgiving.

As a charming sideline, Marie is having a telephone fitted and the silent apprentice Billy (Ray Quinn) takes a shine to LV. He courts her through her window with stories of his shed-based light show.

A scene I particularly liked was the silver-tongued Ray Say convincing LV to have one more try for her father's sake. His story about blue birds was captivating and LV's response lovely.

This is a wonderful production, written and directed by Jim Cartwright, with many nuances and touches, such as half-time bingo and a raffle in aid of Whippets and Ferrets, and the set is incredible in its flexibility.

But ignore all that and just watch LV's performance, it's totally captivating. To 01-06-13

Jane Howard 

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