From the moment you take your seats in the auditorium with the lights fully up, the action has started. On stage there’s a man in a gold sparkly jacket called Mr Boo trying to do stand-up and walking through the aisles there’s a mini skirt clad girl asking if we ‘want a raffle ticket’.
Confused? It’s all part of the interaction element in the latest production at Manchester’s Opera House, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice.
In theory it’s a clever idea as the audience are being made to feel like they in a working mans’ club with about 10 minutes of banter onstage to set the scene before the play officially starts. In reality it felt a little flat. Some audience members didn’t have a clue what was going on and the noise levels with people getting to their seats meant you couldn’t really hear the stand-up comedian anyway. The interactive bingo during the interval was far more successful as people knew what to expect this time and accepted the intrusion.
Once the play ‘officially’ began it was a different story-we were transported into the world of Little Voice – a heart warming northern fairytale written and directed by Jim Cartwright telling the story of a shy girl who can sing like the stars.
Former Coronation Street actress Beverley Callard stars as Mari, the overbearing loud and leery mother of Little Voice (LV) who is more concerned with her new fella Ray Say than her timid daughter. Callard is average in her portrayal of the role made famous in the 1998 film by Brenda Blethyn. Blethyn’s strong portrayal was so memorable that it is hard for any actress to live up to which possibly has Callard at a disadvantage here. I just felt that Callard was trying a little too much at times and playing Mari for laughs rather than concentrating on the emotion and real edge of Jim Cartright‘s creation.
Jess Robinson as LV shines throughout. Her departure from timid teen to confident performer is nothing short of brilliant as she mimics divas such as Bassey, Streisand and Garland to a T. It’s worth seeing the production just for Robinsons final scenes where she displays a real vocal talent and emotional performance that tugs at the heart strings, especially when she sings ‘Papa Can You Hear Me’.
Jess Robinson as LV shines throughout. Her departure from timid teen to confident performer is nothing short of brilliant…
Another strong performance comes from Sally Plumb as Mari’s down trodden ‘fat friend’ Sadie-think Eastenders’ Heather Trott and you won’t go far wrong. Despite there being hardly any lines for Plumb in this role it goes to show that quality is often better than quantity as even without words she remains in total character throughout, often stealing the scenes from those with large chunks of text to deliver.
I’m not sure why Ray Quinn was cast as LV’s love interest Billy – it seems a shame to see him in a non-musical role knowing his vocal talents we witnessed in the X Factor years ago and burgeoning musical theatre career since then. Quinn has softened his Liverpool accent for the part but in doing so lacks in performance, (although in his defence Billy is hardly a role with a lot of depth).
Any Only Fools and Horses fans watching the play would be forgiven for thinking that Simon Thorp’s impresario character Ray Say had more than a passing resemblence to ‘Boysie’ – in his looks and portrayal. Even Thorp is wise to this as there’s a line where Ray shouts ‘Oi Mari” which he delivers in the same way Boysie famously used to utter ‘Oi Marleeeenee’. There’s some nice light and shade from Thorp in the Second Act as he gives shows Ray’s menacing edge when we see him lose his patience with LV as she refuses to perform for him.
All in all this isn’t a bad production it’s just not the best one I have seen of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice although ‘virgins’ to the play will be more than happy at what is on offer.
Runs at the Opera House, Manchester till May 4th