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Steve Markwick

Review: THE RISE AND FALL OF LITTLE VOICE at The Park Theatre

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice It's something of a family affair at The Park Theatre. Real-life mother/daughter Sally George and Rafaella Hutchinson play Mari and Little Voice while real-life mother/grandmother Ann Pinnington co-produces.

The play revolves around the shy, agoraphobic Little Voice who spends her time in her room listening to her late father's record collection (Judy, Marilyn, Shirley, Barbara, Dusty - basically any diva know by one name) and her overbearing, larger than life mother Mari. When Mari hooks up with small-time agent Ray Say she thinks she's found her last chance at a better life and in turn when Ray overhears LV singing The Man That Got Away as Judy Garland he thinks he's found his meal ticket to the big time - golf with Tarby and Brucie.

Set against these desperate chancers grimly exploiting each other, there's a sweetly contrasting relationship that develops between LV and Billy, the equally shy and awkward telephone engineer who is as obsessed with his lights as LV is with her father's vinyl.

Although the play and subsequent film are famous for LV's vocal impressions the show really belongs to Mari. Sally George gives a tour de force performance ringing every last ounce out of her northern vowels while delivering Jim Cartwright's sing-song malapropisms as if they were poetic verse.

Although Rafaella Hutchinson is not the best vocal impressionist she is a good singer and has just the right bird-like fragility to make a very convincing LV. Fortunately her strongest moment is the first time we hear her sing unaccompanied alone in her room. As she begins to sing The Man That Got Away (appropriately on the first night her mother has brought Ray back to their chaotic house) both the agent and the audience are transfixed. After that she's not helped by some odd song choices and generic backing tracks - Walk On By and As Tears Go By are not vocally distinctive enough to make an impression and I missed hearing Gracie Fields' Sing As We Go if only for its northern roots.

Kevin McMonagle's Ray Say doesn't quite have the charisma to live up to Mari's billing as a tongue half raspberry and half razor. However strong support comes from Jamie-Rose Monk as Mari's punchbag of a neighbour Sadie, Shaun Prendergast as club owner Mr. Boo and sweet-faced Linford Johnson as Billy.

As the second half descends into Hell, as Mari describes the charred remains of her house, the pace drops a bit as we're presented with a series of set pieces, almost like three separate arias from an opera - Ray's breakdown, Mari's breakdown and finally LV's breakdown in which she eventually finds her true voice.