Margaret Adeagbo reviews West End hit The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal.

I must admit I was full of excitement and expectation as I arrived at the Theatre Royal Nottingham. However I’m afraid to say my enthusiasm was short-lived. Jim Cartwright’s production of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice was quite a disappointment.

The set design catapulted the audience back to a gritty Northern 1970s working class home. The characters enhanced this brilliantly. The staging had authenticity, yet it rarely changed and this created a stale and stilted environment that got rather tiresome. The play began with club manager Mr Boo played by Duggie Brown inviting the audience to participate in what I can only describe as a pantomime, cue cringe induced agony.

The opening part of the play struggled to find its feet. Mari played by Coronation Street’s Beverly Callard, did provide some great comedic moments, especially coupled with her sidekick Sadie (Sally Plumb). A moment of pure genius and hilarity was initiated in the duo’s dance routine to the Jackson 5 led by Callard. While this sing along did produce some exciting moments it failed to boost the whole ensemble.

 

While most of play was woefully underwhelming, Robinson’s character was sensational. Her voice resounded around the room creating a spectacular atmosphere. The transition from the light-hearted mode into the more emotionally charged second part of the play must also be given merit. Here we see the tender relationship blossom between a shy Little Voice and her love interest Bill played by Ray Quinn as she finally learns to sing in her own voice. It was a very heart-warming and sensitive moment.

The concluding part of the play was certainly its best. It commenced with the audience participation in a game of Bingo. The reward of prizes such as a jar of gherkins produced laughs from the spectators. Furthermore, what the stage arrangement lacked was undoubtedly made up with the lighting which created and adapted the mood brilliantly. The scene exploded as the shy and retiring Little Voice played by Jess Robinson took to the stage and blew the audience away with her powerful voice. They were momentary instances of magnificence in the scene in which Little Voice and Ray Say (Joe Mc Gawn) argue. The whole episode is conducted completely out of snippets of songs and must definitely be applauded.

Cartwrights’s Little Voice certainly begins with the best of intentions, and the brilliant characters make up for a lot of its faults. The powerful renditions of great artists such as Streisand, Minnelli and Piaf, enable the viewer to disregard Robinson’s overly reticent character.

However this play, centred on a cripplingly shy girl and the discovery of her hidden talent of being able to impersonate 1970’s Divas, sadly missed the mark several times. As the audience took their final bow I concede that I felt a slight sense of dissatisfaction.

Margaret Adeagbo

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