The Rise and Fall of Little Voice

Jim Cartwright’s 1992 Olivier award-winning play, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, depicts the life of the incredibly shy and reclusive Little Voice, who finds comfort in her late father’s records as she hides away from her loud, overbearing and self-involved mother, Mari. When local club agent Ray Say begins dating Mari, he discovers a hidden talent in Little Voice, who, having been hidden away in her room for years, has perfected her vocals and impressions, and he is set on making her into a success.

Kate Robson-Stuart’s voice is without a doubt the star of this production. Mature and soulful, Robson-Stuart’s tones fill the theatre to the brim and ensure that all attention is immediately drawn towards her in the rare moments when Little Voice is allowed to shine. Anna Skye also stands out as the glaringly desperate Mari. Her obvious desire to be wanted by Ray Say is both comical and embarrassing, yet Skye’s sudden and convincing switch to a heartbroken and humiliated victim in the second act does well to bring the audience around to pitying her when both her lover and daughter finally turn on her.

Not a lot happens in the first act of this production, though. In fact, the story progresses very little and serves instead to set up a cast of unlikeable, and at times loathsome, characters. Even shy Little Voice’s lack of communication is grating after a while and you can almost come to understand her mother’s frustration towards her. This does come mainly from a very slow pace throughout the entire production; almost every line is spoken at the same tempo as the one before, which means the first, fairly uneventful half drags significantly. Simon Jessop’s sudden outburst as Ray Say in the second act thus comes as a complete shock in contrast to the rest of the piece. Jessop exudes such venom in Ray Say’s unwarranted and cruel verbal assault on Mari that for a little while he is fearsome.  In contrast however, Mari’s spiteful torrent of rage towards her daughter is slightly underplayed by Skye. Again, it is the pace that means this scene suffers; the speed of dialogue changes little from the calmer scenes and means a much weaker contrast and less authentic domestic argument on stage.

The relationship between Little Voice and Billy (Elliot Harper) is touching, and builds very slowly from initial awkward first glances to Billy’s caring and protective manner towards Little Voice. For a relationship lacking in dialogue, Harper and Robson-Stuart manage to successfully create intimacy through the many silences and long glances. Bibi Nerheim plays the sweet and helpful Sadie with innocence and a gentle charm. Although her character serves very little in advancing the play, she provides some light humour as Mari’s pushover neighbour.

This is a colourful production of bold and exuberant characters that is complemented by an authentic set of a shabby, run-down, 90s suburban home. With a desolate and crumbling kitchen and a sparse bedroom for Little Voice, the design suits the atmosphere of claustrophobia and neglect that the house is rife with. Despite the sluggish pace at times, a strong cast make this a lively and watchable production.

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is playing at Queens Theatre until 12 October. For more information and tickets, see the Queens Theatre website.