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The Rise and Fall of Little Voice

12 June 2015
The Rise and Fall of Little Voice
The West Yorkshire Playhouse was packed out on Monday 8th June for its novelty ‘pay what you like’ night, amidst its latest production’s season at the renowned venue. On stage was the set for Jim Cartwright’s Olivier winning play ‘The Rise and Fall of Little Voice’ a story which explores the mother-daughter dynamic in a typical Northern terrace where the banal everyday is interjected with surprising bursts of showbiz.

Photography by Anthony Robling

Cartwright’s play - which still remains a timeless story after 23 years - employs the same frank, terraced house humour as say, Coronation Street, the cast of which supplies two of its star alumni; Vicky Entwistle reprises the similar brash wit she summoned for her role as Janis Lee (her character still working in a factory) as potty-mouthed self obsessed mother Mari with Chris Gascoyne joining her as slippery talent manager Ray Say. Much of Mari’s humour lies in her no frills crudeness which all tied up in a hilariously broad Lancashire accent, which native Lancastrian Entwistle commands with an ‘r’ rolling ease.

Little Voice Ray Say and Mari

The comedy of the script is interjected with real moments of sadness and a bleak truthfulness, to the point where the jumble of comedy and drama leave some audience members still giggling nervously in moments of raw emotion. Nancy Sullivan plays the perfect Jekyll and Hyde when her character ‘LV’ Little Voice’ is transformed from a meek and anxious figure into an almost possessed caricature of the famous voices - and faces - of the 20th century. Her vocal talents are astounding, perhaps even more so because of the tiny frame that they explode from; she perfectly parrots the caramel tones of Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland trills, desperately trying to find her own lost voice, but finding she can only screen her emotions through the crooning of these tragic starlets. Underlying these astounding bursts of talent is a story of scarcity, loss and love. Both Sullivan and Entwistle skilfully access this truthfulness underneath a slapstick exterior.

Little Voice- little voice

Support comes from Tendeyi Jembere who plays Little Voice’s saviour and friend Billy, giving a sweet and tender performance. Joanna Brookes plays the dozy, near mute neighbour Sadie whose regular token catch phrase ‘Okaaaay’ said in a simple drawl brings in many of the laughs; be sure to also watch out for a side splitting dance sequence between her and Mari. Brenden Charleson plays the tacky showbiz mogul Lou Boo, oozing such clownish charm that you might forget you’re sitting in the theatre and not in fact down at the local club. His performance tests the fourth wall of theatrics, inviting the audience to jest and jeer like the locals.

Little Voice Set

The set also sits somewhere between the hyper real and the surreal, with the cut-out effect of the terrace building which sits like a giant rotating dollhouse, allowing us a 360 degree peek into the private space, complete with ageing carpets and Mari’s various stashes of liquor. The set, unlike usual domestic scenes allows no ‘off stage’ liberties; when a character storms out of one room, we see them reappear in another, enforcing a strange voyeuristic realism. The entire stage is fringed with the tacky streamers found at disco nights at the local men’s club, their constant shimmering presence reminding us that Little Voice’s story is by no means ordinary. The Rise and Fall of Little Voice really packs a punch, and runs at the WYP until the 4th July.

By
Emma is a Freelance Writer for Leeds Living. She has a degree in English literature from the University of Leeds and specialises in writing cultural editorials.