THE RISE AND FALL OF LITTLE VOICE
Cut to the Chase at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch
There can't be many who have never encountered Jim Cartwright's fable of fame and misfortune, either in the National Theatre production, or the countless revivals, or the Michael Caine movie. It's even on the school syllabus ...
Now Hornchurch stages the story of how opportunity knocks twice for shy songstress Little Voice, in the very different persons of Ray Say, small-time impresario, and Billy from BT with his love of lighting.
The heart of the piece is the uncanny ability of this introverted ugly duckling to reproduce the voices she's heard on the treasured vinyls her father left her. Kate Robson-Stuart is splendidly convincing on both counts: a mousy, tense figure in a dressing gown, she almost effortlessly evokes the divas on the discs, from Garland to Streisand.
Musically the highlight has to be the karaoke medley in her triumph at the seedy club, Jean's Hammond organ ousted by proper backing tracks for a stunning tribute to Dame Shirley, Norma Jean, Our Gracie, the Little Sparrow …
Dramatically, the piece really comes to life when things get nasty, the LPs go out of the window and the family home goes up in flames. LV's row with Ray, which she conducts entirely in snippets of song, is very effectively done as they stumble down the stairs.
We are greeted with 45rpm record labels projected onto the ceiling, and the main set is an evocative recreation of 90s Northern, though the bedroom especially seems remote, making the lovely Bluebird scene where Ray sweet-talks the child into performing in public a little less powerful than it might have been. And not all of the accents are spot on, even for an unspecified "northern town".
Ray is played with just the right blend of sleaze and ambition by Simon Jessop; LV's awful mother Mari by Anna Skye, who convincingly captures the fecklessness and the despair of her character. David Morley Hale makes an excellent club compère, and Elliot Harper is a sweet young Billy, who uses his electrical skills to give Little Voice a fitting finale, complete with smoke and digital lanterns way ahead of their time.
But the award for best support has to go to Bibi Nerheim as dumpy Sadie from next door, with her frumpy clothes and her catfood armpits. I can't imagine that role being done better.
The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is directed by Bob Carlton, with Steven Markwick in charge of the music.
production photo: Nobby Clark