Review: The Rise and Fall of Little Voice @ the Barn Theatre

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By Laura Clark

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, Jim Cartwright's Olivier award-winning comedy, tells the tale of LV: the little voice surrounded by some big personalities. 

After the death of her father, Little Voice tries to keep the memories of him alive by clinging onto his old records, her mother attempts to do the same, by clinging to anything she can. LV's talent for impersonating the greats attracts the unwanted attention of small-time club owner Mr. Boo and her mother's part-time lover, Ray Say. Will she be drawn to the bright lights of stardom or opt for the 'fine lights' offered by heart-of-gold electrician, Billy?

The lights go up on a dingy 1980s two-up two-down, created by Christina Cammarota. The paisley-printed walls are a shade of smoke-stained salmon, off-set by a shabby red velvet sofa. In the darkness glows an orange light, which turns out to be a Spanish dancer tea cosy. Sam Rowcliffe-Tanner's lighting sets the right tone: the twinkling curtain for LV's big moment and the final spotlight on her face at the end were a nice touch. Michael England's musical choices were also aptly selected: Nancy Sinatra's These Boots Were Made for Walking was a perfect refrain for the stiletto-heeled Mari and flat-footed Ray to lambada to.

Gillian McCafferty cruised through her lines with a kind of narcissistic grace, tripping off Cartwright's comic cadences with aplomb. She masterfully captured the complex character of Mari: who sashays through life like an aged swan, paddling frantically against the tranquil waters of the Scalby Beck. McCafferty kept a firm hold on Mari's unhinged persona throughout, barely constrained by self-control or her haphazardly strewn dressing gown; ‘ankle deep in char' and half way to 'hell', McCafferty blazes.

Sarah Louise Hughes is making her professional debut in the role of LV: she shines with a 'fine light', with record quality singing and dazzlingly showmanship - less shy than Jane Horrock's original version, but still sweet, with a defiant edge. Her counterpart Hadley Brown is also treading the professional boards for the first time: he gave a strong performance as the lovable and unassuming Billy and there were some touching moments between them.

Their fate was sealed by a Romeo and Juliet style exchange, made possible by the inclusion of a cinema-esque screen to the left of LV's bedroom. The grubby windowsill in place of a Verona balcony was no obstacle to their love and LV's face said it all in a poignant moment where she appeared on the screen like a 1940s starlet: a stark contrast to the brash commercials and scenes from comedy series Rising Damp and popular gameshow The Sale of the Century broadcast earlier in the show.

The two worlds, divided by a precarious set of scaffold steps eventually collided in a spectacular scene between the leopard-clad Mari and LV. The tension mounts as a stuck record glitches like a ticking clock and Mari makes her way to confront LV. Strassen uses the motif of the record to great effect, the image of Mari clutching Ray on the velvet sofa in the underworld of the downstairs and LV tenderly embracing her records directly above them, is a striking one.

Over the furore, Sadie is the only person besides Billy who really hears LV - she is overcome with tears at her Judy Garland style rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, in a very moving scene from Larissa Hunter - who stole the show on more than one occasion as the 'straight guy'.

Gary Richards captured the darker side of Ray Say's character through a seemingly softer interpretation: his cheeky chappy ways, however, are gradually inched out by his avaricious streak. Ray Say is the unexpected villain of the piece: talking of love and bluebirds, but dreaming of fame and fortune and Richard's plays his dual betrayal of LV and Mari well. Sparks were flying between the on-stage couple, Richard's non-reactions were as amusing as his reactions during their quick-fire repartee: Ray's fixed Cheshire cat grin, despite being told he has 'Elvis breath' was comic perfection. 

 Stephen Omer played well to the audience 'off-stage' and on, in his double role as hard-nosed businessman and bubbly compere, Mr. Boo. Omer portrayed Boo's split personality with subtlety and class: he was suitably steely in his opening scene (despite cosying up with Sadie at the end) disdainfully wiping lipstick from his glass and got the audience chuckling as LV's warm up act.

Needless to say the main event, the ensemble performance of 'the artiste, the manager[s], the minder and the mother' (and Billy of course) received the biggest applause.

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is currently showing at the Barn Theatre in Cirencester until Sat 11th August. Visit barntheatre.org.uk for times, tickets and further info!

Laura Clark is a freelance journalist based in Stroud. She has written for: Musical Opinion; Teaching Drama; The Kensington Magazine; the CBeebies annual; Top of the Pops and the BBC Music Magazine newsfeed.