As their season is coming to a close, it looks as though the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds is determined to end it with a bang. There’s been a whole host of marvellous shows on offer this season, and to top it off, artistic director James Brining has brought to life Jim Cartwright’s acclaimed 1992 play The Rise and Fall of Little Voice.
Little Voice brings us up north into the home of waster Mari Hoff (Vicky Entwistle), mother of Little Voice (Nancy Sullivan). All her life, Little Voice has been listening to her deceased father’s record collection, which contains the likes of Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe and Shirley Bassey, in order to escape the harsh reality of her life. One night, Mari brings back agent Ray Say (Chris Gascoyne) and clings to him with the knowledge he might be able to provide her with an escape from her dull existence. Ray hears Little Voice sing in the early hours of the morning and reckons that she’s his ticket to a better future as well. But Little Voice doesn’t care for the glitz and glamour of showbiz – she just wants to be loved and have a simple life.
Simply put, this production of Little Voice absolutely oozes quality; the detail that’s gone into every aspect of it is astonishing. The whole cast does an excellent job of portraying their characters, and reminds us that the world around us often tries to take away our hopes and dreams without a second thought. They convey Cartwright’s rich and brilliant text to us through their performances, and draw us into the world and narrative of the play with ease.
What’s more, they frolic around Colin Richmond’s superbly designed set in a way that makes you think they’ve really been living there for years. It’s a tall skeleton of a house that lets you see every aspect of the characters’ lives, and acts as a reminder of the claustrophobic environment Little Voice lives in. This claustrophobic world is further enhanced by Dan Hoole’s sound design, which incorporates pieces of 90s house music that attempts to suffocate any sense of individuality. There’s also Philip Gladwell’s excellent lighting design that perfectly conveys the different shades of light and dark found within Cartwright’s text. All of these production elements combine to create a production that has a strong theatrical presence and awesome visual aesthetic, which makes it easy to engage with the characters and their narrative.
Theatre’s main job is, and always has been, to entertain, engage and ask questions about the world we live in today. I can assure that this production of Little Voice does exactly that; it’s got all of the right ingredients that come together to create perfect theatre. But this production adds that little something extra that makes you come out of the auditorium smiling and, more importantly, inquisitive about our world. It’s warm, funny, honest and, most importantly, incredibly human. Along with the return of Maxine Peake’s play Beryl shortly, the West Yorkshire Playhouse has on its hands a fitting end to what has been a tremendous season.
The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is playing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until 4 July. For tickets and more information, see the West Yorkshire Playhouse website.