Little voice with a big sound

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

****

WHEN it comes to dysfunctional families the Hoffs deserve a chapter on their own.

Daughter Laura, known as LV, Little Voice, because she is so quiet, hardly talks as she withdraws into her own world, desperately misses her dead father and spends her life listening to his records and perfecting stunning impersonations of the recording artists on her Dansette such as Judy Garland, Streisand, Shirley Bassey, Tina Turner and the like.

A big number for Little Voice played by Jess Robinson

Mum Mari is a good time (was had by all probably) girl whose sees life as a constant party in her honour, full of booze and any men available.

Her latest bedfellow is Ray Say, a small-time manager and agent of even smaller time acts who suddenly discovers Laura and her incredible singing and sees her as his ticket to the good life.

Then there is Billy, played by ex-X-factor runner-up Ray Quinn,  the engineer who has fallen for LV after installing a telephone in her mum's home and Sadie, Mari's roly-poly friend and a half – at least – played by Sally Plumb.

Holding the gate open to a better life is Mr Boo, played by comedian Duggie Brown, who runs tired clubs with even more tired patter. His booking will make LV a star – at least that is the plan - although with a cast of such misfits there is never going to be a happy ending.

Impressionist Jess Robinson gives us a convincing performance as the shy, naive LV, frightened of her own shadow, who only comes alive when she sings – and what a voice Robinson produces as she works her way through pop's divas in a stunning medley with power and confidence.

Her Happy Birthday Mr President form Marilyn Monroe was uncanny.

Coronation Street star Beverley Callard is the perfect foil as mum Mari, brash, common as muck, man mad, squeezed into dresses from a past lifetime, and topped up with regular doses of booze.

Beverley Callard gives a measured performance as Mari, the mum with a loveless life of casual relationships and cheap booze.

Chasing her, or at least using her to reach LV, is agent and manager Ray Say, played with splendid deviousness by Joe McGann. Mari's whole life is encapsulated in one scene when Ray cruelly tells her he has no interest in her, that she is old, sagging and past it, stinks of booze and the only reason he has shown any interest at all beyond the initial available sex was to sign up LV. A relationship where both were in it purely for what they could get.

Mari's vulnerability is suddenly is exposed and she lashes out at anything she can reach and hurt, Sadie and LV.

Jim Cartwright's play – he also directed this production - dates back to 1992 but hardly feels dated.

All right we might not have working men's clubs on every corner any more – but we didn't in 1992 either, and people perhaps are no long as excited by a telephone being installed, but the basic story of a young girl who misses her dad and is desperate to be loved and a mum who cannot see past her own pleasure I as relevant now as it was 20 years ago..

If there was a fault the second half seemed to lack pace and a first act setting the scene and building up a nice rhythm seemed to falter and stutter at times after the interval while a couple of scenes in the dark hardly helped to move things along; minor niggles in what was an entertaining show. To 29-09-12

Roger Clarke

And heard from another voice . . .

****

TWO women give contrasting yet equally outstanding performances in this emotional award-winning play written and directed by Jim Cartwright.

Jess Robinson, an impressionist who has appeared in BBC2's Dead Ringers, plays the timid young girl nicknamed Little Voice, while Beverley Callard, for 21 years Coronation Street's Liz McDonald, is her hard-drinking sex-mad mother, Mari.

Robinson is totally convincing as 'LV', spending most of the time curled up[in her bedroom listening to records left by her late father, occasionally bursting into song, and she has a remarkable ability to imitate such divas as Shirley Bassey, Judy Garland, Edith Piaf, Barbra Streisand and Tina Turner.

And Callard is perfect in the role of mouthy Mari, more interested in being with men than being a mother, and she has some highly amusing scenes with her roly-poly neighbour Sadie (Sally Plumb).

Joe McGann is excellent, too, as hapless talent scout Ray Say, happy to satisfy Mari's love lust until he hears Little Voice singing upstairs and his desires switch to cashing in on her undiscovered ability....if she can cope with the pressure at Mr Boo's northern club, and beyond.

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice can be heard until Saturday night 29.09.12

Paul Marston 

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