By Jeremy Miles
The Rise and Fall of Little Voice: Lighthouse, Poole
A standing ovation hailed the triumphant finale of Jim Cartwright’s award-winning play on its opening night in Poole on Monday. A telling accolade for a production that steers an occasionally uneven path between tender interplay and knockabout over-acting. Not that this bitter-sweet musical drama directed by Cartwright himself is anything other than excellent. It’s just that it sometimes leaves you with the distinct feeling that it could be even better.
But the story is everything and this is a searing tale of a manipulative single mother who has driven her talented but terrified daughter, nicknamed Little Voice, to withdraw into a world of her own, finding solace only in her late father’s record collection.
Understudy Sarah Dearlove, standing in for an unwell Beverly Callard, plays mum Mari, a brassy, boozy, bully who taunts the timid LV to breaking point. It’s a pivotal role and she does a fine job.
Jess Robinson is superb as the girl who can only express herself by impersonating the divine divas on her dad’s vinyl. Tragic, brutalised and trapped in a skanky wasteland of urban deprivation she can see no way out.When Mari’s boyfriend, dodgy Northern club agent Ray Say (Simon Thorp), hears her singing alone in her room pound signs flash before his eyes. With the help of a suddenly interested Mari and her fat, needy friend Sadie (Sally Plumb), he drags LV to the local club and forces her to perform her Shirley Bassey, Edith Piaf, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe routines.
The down at heel atmosphere is hiked by Duggie Brown’s seedy compere Mr Boo - all glittering jacket and dreadful jokes. There’s even audience participation which on Monday’s opening night saw two ‘lucky’ occupants of the stalls walk off with a raffle and bingo prize - a jar of pickled gherkins and a tin of condensed milk.
All seems lost for tragic LV as she’s sold into some kind of factory social club cabaret hell. But in an incendiary ending, salvation is at hand as she’s literally rescued by the love and empathy of local phone engineer Billy (Ray Quinn), a kindred spirit who finally helps LV discover a voice of her own. Quinn, making his first return to Lighthouse since his hugely successful panto run in Aladdin, once again shows what a versatile actor he is.
*The Rise and Fall of Little Voice plays Lighthouse until Saturday April 20th.