The fact most widely known about Jim Cartwright’s 1992 play The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is that it was created, in part, to showcase Jane Horrocks’s astonishing talent for vocal impersonations.
The role was so her own, in fact, that when the play was adapted for the big screen six years later, she once again became shy Little Voice while the actors around her changed. Hers are big shoes to fill then – and Diana Vickers should be applauded for doing so with huge success.
This new production of the play is blessed with a whole host of great performances, however. In fact, if you were told a part was built around one of the actors in this version, you would most likely assume it to be LV’s mother Mari, played by Lesley Sharp. It is a frankly huge performance – so huge that during the first ten minutes the fear that she may veer into pantomime was not unwarranted. But Sharpe is too skilful an actress for that.
Mari is brash, shameless, and ridiculously loud whether enjoying a booze-fuelled high and hangover-induced low. She is a bit pantomime. But, as Sharp shows, she also has a streak in her that is genuinely cruel - and another that knows and regrets it. It is a brilliant, densely-written part and Sharp handles all aspects of the character with ease.
Like the character she plays, though, Diana Vickers ultimately refuses to be outshone. As LV – introverted to the point of reclusion due to a mix of lingering grief over her father’s death and the inability to get a word in edgeways with her mam around – Vickers gives a delicate performance that is the perfect foil for Sharpe’s overbearing Mari. Her scenes with Billy, especially - played with infinite charm by James Cartwright - were heart-meltingly sweet with just the right amount of awkwardness.
It is Vickers’ ability to impersonate the singers her character so clings to, of course, that was really going to make or break her in this role, and here again she proved herself more than up to the task. Her Garland and Faithfull may not have been perfect, but the medley of classic songs from great female singers was, as it must be, a highlight, and she showed some great capacity for comedy in her impersonations of Bassey and Piaf, as well as a versatile voice.
Among all the highs that this production achieves, however, there are a couple of problems. The play is really quite unbalanced, with all the emotional punch occurring in the second half. The first, while enjoyable, never really takes off. More disappointing, however, is the fact that Marc Warren is underused.
Ray Say, the smarmy, manipulative but charismatic small time talent manager desperate to make LV a star should be the perfect role for Warren, but it is a strangely underwritten part. And given Mari’s tragic soliloquies and even Billy’s chance to wax lyrical about the light show he has been painstakingly putting together for years, this seems a bit odd.
In Say’s only really interesting scene though – when he subtly cajoles LV into performing again and so prove that ‘her heart belongs to Daddy’ – Warren showed what he could have delivered had he just been given a little more to do.
The show takes its time to really ignite, then, but the fine performances – and Lez Brotherston’s inventive, meticulously detailed set – mean that it is always engaging. And the moments that are particularly good - from LV’s knock-out turn at the working men’s club to Mari’s almost Shakespearean decline - are very good indeed.
Also at MusicOMH.com