The Rise and Fall of Little Voice – Review – York Theatre Royal
By Roger Crow, July 2022
Hard to believe it was 1998 when I last saw the film version of Jim Cartwright’s acclaimed stage play. Of course with the impressive star cast of Michael Caine, Brenda Blethyn, Jim Broadbent, Ewan McGregor and Jane Horrocks, there was a lot of baggage attached to the production. Difficult to buy into characters when the cast had appeared in so many iconic films or TV shows.
Less problematic is the stage show, which at a couple of hours, did make me wonder if I’d survive the duration. It’s been one of those weeks where I’ve been chasing around Yorkshire, attending various gigs and events, so sleep has been minimal. Not complaining as summers seem to keep getting shorter and winters longer, but the thought of a dark theatre and fatigue are not a good mix.
I needn’t have worried. A coffee and a box of chocs was just the pick-me-up I needed for an extraordinary show.
Chances are you know the story. In a beautifully crafted set which looks like a slice of Coronation Street, lives Mari (Shona Gulati). She’s loud, brash, boozy, eternally randy. Not a big reader.
Her daughter, LV (Christina Bianco) spends most of the time in her room, listening to her records and barely saying a word, much to the anger of her unsympathetic mum, who bangs on the ceiling with a broom. Those LPs are all she has to remind her of her much-missed dad.
The electrics in the house are one spark away from a fire, but Mari seems more interested in having a new phone installed. And when a couple of phone engineers arrive, she’s all over them like a rash. Oh, and she has a not-too-bright friend, Sadie, who puts up with her Jekyll and Hyde moods.
When Mari starts dating sleazy showbiz agent Ray Say, and he gets a brief taste of LV’s phenomenal singing, he starts blinking pound signs, while Mari thinks he only has eyes for her.
What unfolds is an attempt to exploit LV, while besotted phone engineer Billy romances her in a Romeo and Juliet style via a ladder outside her window.
It’s a bittersweet play, with some characters painted so broad, Cartwright may as well have used a masonry brush, while delicate LV is sketched with a fine artist’s.
Christina Bianco is absolutely phenomenal as the eponymous character, suppressed by grief, fear and a harridan of a mother, while club entertainer Mr Boo is a hoot. I could happily have seen a show with just him telling jokes and LV doing her jaw-droppingly brilliant stage routine.
Her medley of hits in a variety of familiar voices during the second half is an absolute delight.
Solid support comes from Ian Kelsey as Ray; Akshay Gulati as Billy, and Fiona Mullvaney as Sadie, while William Ilkley is terrific as Mr Boo and one of the phone engineers.
Full marks to Shobna, who is in danger of stealing the entire show with a brave, bold, incredible performance as the over-the-hill matriarch desperately relying on her looks to survive.
(A bit of a stretch as Ms Gulati looks better now than in her Corrie days all those years ago).
There are times it’s brutally honest, and while some of the dialogue strays into strangely Shakespearean territory for no apparent reason, especially Mari’s final lines, it’s a joy to hear many of those finely crafted speeches.
TRAFOLV, as nobody calls it, was meant to be seen on stage, as good as the film is, and even an exhausted journo in need of sleep was gripped from start to finish.
Kudos to director Bronagh Langan, set and costume designer Sara Perks, and lighting designer Nic Farman for some excellent behind-the-scenes work.
If you’ve only ever seen the film, then do yourself a favour and see the play in its natural environment with a terrific cast. This Little Voice will resonate with many for years.