Review: The Rise and Fall of Little Voice makes you wanna shout

The performances in Bronagh Lagan’s excellent production at The Lowry are everything

Jim Cartwight’s play about a young girl who spends all of her time in room listening to her records, far longer than Tracy Barlow listened to her tapes as a kid, was written for the wonderful Jane Horrocks. 

Mimicking the likes of Shirley Bassey, Judy Garland and Edith Piaf, whilst her cruel mother runs amok downstairs, offered audiences superb performances and a raw and very funny play, with the added bonus of Alison Steadman as Little Voice’s mother Mari in the first London run.  

It transferred to Broadway and was later turned into a successful film starring Horrocks, Brenda Blethyn, Michael Caine, Ewan McGregor and Jim Broadbent.

The character of Mari is a complex one, and some actors have approached this part as an OTT monster – but if you look beneath the garish costumes, the hurtful comments to those closest to her and the loud and brash exterior, there lies a woman who has not got what she deserved in life. 

Photo: Pamela Raith Photography

The wonderful Shobna Gulati explores every single layer of this character and even when she is at her very worst, there is pain behind her eyes.

Mari’s daughter LV (Christina Bianco) is the opposite, spending her days seeking solace and taking Corinne Bailey’s advice, this girl puts her records on and plays her favourite songs. 

They provide an escape but also a connection to her late father, who she adores. The records are his and this also means she can drown out her mother, who is desperately seeking an escape, too.

A geeky knight with a shining screwdriver and a hammer arrives in the form of Billy (Akshay Gulati) who comes to install a phone in this madhouse and finds himself completely in awe of LV.

He wants to rescue her, but more importantly, he gets her.

Photo: Pamela Raith Photography

Enter Ray Say (Ian Kelsey) a sleazy agent who hears LV and smells the cash and sets out to manipulate the young girl into believing that if she performs for him, she is somehow doing this for her dad.

The poor girl barely speaks having been silenced by all she experiences living in Mari’s crazy world.

Aside from Billy, Mari’s mainly silent friend Sadie (Fiona Mulvaney) does look out for her and shows her more care and love than anyone else. But most of the time she resembles a kicked dog, waiting to be let off the leash.

Sara Perks’ excellent costumes highlight the character’s façades brilliantly and Billy and LV are both matched by the fact that they look as if they want to disappear into the background.

Perks’ set design captures the chaos of this house, which is not really a home.

A split stage may have worked better than split levels, as there are times when you cannot hear LV when she is upstairs and the sight lines are not always great when she is hiding in her room.

Photo: Pamela Raith Photography

Nic Farman’s lighting is excellent, contrasting between the title character’s inner world and the one she finds herself propelled into.

The harsh unforgiving lighting in the club shows her pain beautifully well.

The performances in Bronagh Lagan’s excellent production are everything.

Akshay Gulati has just the right amount of awkwardness as Billy and the secret meeting scenes between he and LV feature them as star crossed lovers.

Fiona Mulvaney’s silent portrayal as Sadie speaks volumes, especially when things start to take a turn for the worst. 

Ian Kelsey completely nails the idea that Ray is avoiding failure and will seize any opportunity to avoid it.

William Ilkley does a fine job as nightclub owner Mr Boo, and he warms the audience up a treat before LV makes her debut.

As LV herself, Christina Bianco really explores the fact that less is more. She builds this character from invisible to visible. 

There are two scenes in which she stands out: the wonderful performance where she finds her voice, and a confrontation where she uses this to speak out.

Photo: Pamela Raith Photography

Shobna Gulati is superb as Mari, which is not an easy role to play, as there are many elements of her which are unlikeable. But she presents so much behind the mask of hair lacquer and cheap booze, whilst never diluting her cruel streaks which will eventually push people away.

This is a performance that lives with you and proves what an accomplished stage performer Shobna is, as you cannot take your eyes off her.

She would make a brilliant Sandra in Jonathan Harvey’s wonderful play Beautiful Thing because she is excellent at delivering light and shade.  

There are a few moments when the sound falters on the night I attended and the odd scene which feels a bit flat in the first half.

But, the second half really sees the actors get into their stride and Lagan really gives them all an opportunity to show all sides of these characters resulting in a production of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice that makes you wanna shout. 

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is at the Lowry until Saturday 11th June and tickets can be booked here.  

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