Jim Cartright’s The Rise and Fall of Little Voice isn’t seen nearly as often as it deserves, most probably because of the ambition of the script in what it demands from its actors.
Twenty years on from its first performance the playwright has got hold of the directorial reins, with a relatively unknown comedy actress, Jess Robinson, in the eponymous role and former Coronation Street star Beverley Callard as her alcoholic mother, Mari.
Cartwright has created characters of real depth, yet here he concentrates on bringing out the comedy rather than the pathos of the story, in a production which zips along, finding humour at every turn.
For this Callard is perfect. Her loud-mouthed character, dressed in short skirts and low-cut tops, is not a million miles away from her Corrie alter ego, Liz McDonald. Yet this is not simply celebrity casting. Callard surprises in her strength of comedic timing, playing for laughs with energetic physical gags too. Cartwright paints Mari hard and doesn’t allow her to win the sympathy card that can add a heart-breaking dimension to her story. She is not a woman who dreams and never gets what she wants, but who takes what she wants, despite the consequences. Similarly Simon Thorpe plays Mari’s greasy boyfriend, Ray Say, as thoroughly rotten and devoid of charm. It is a striking and at times menacing performance.
So, what chance has the delicate Little Voice got in this selfish world? Cartwright emphasises her hopelessness by keeping the character dressed in pyjamas for the whole of the first act. Yet Robinson’s overplaying of the shyness, although irritating at first, only adds to the transformation when Cartwright unleashes his star.
We wait a long time for it, but when Little Voice takes centre stage she sparkles in every sense. Robinson fills the stage with a genuine presence. Her voice is huge and her impressions hilarious. It is a terrific, show-stopping performance, which is worth the ticket price alone.
The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is at the Opera House, Manchester from 29 April 2013 to 04 May 2013.