Some stunning singing helps this so-so revival over the line
A year after the Royal Court gave Jim Cartwright’s ‘Road’ a towering revival, here comes a new production of his other famous play, ‘The Rise and Fall of Little Voice’. Cartwright’s biggest commercial success, the original Sam Mendes production was a huge hit for the National Theatre in 1992, and made the name of star Jane Horrocks, who went on to lead the 1998 film.
The debut from new company Land of Green Ginger, director Tom Latter turns in a decent production, thanks largely to the casting of Rafaella Hutchinson in the title role as the so-called ‘Little Voice’, a shy young woman with a remarkable gift for mimicking the great singers in the record collection she was left by her beloved late father.
If Hutchinson possibly overdoes the shyness, she has a remarkably persuasive singing voice, and nails a body of song that runs from ‘Goldfinger’ to ‘As Tears Go By’ with the level of skill and conviction that’s absolutely required to even attempt this show in the first place.
She’s the high point of Latter’s production, which sometimes struggles a bit. Cartwright’s pungently ornate prose is both a blessing and a curse: it is fantastically arresting language (once you hear the word ‘twatbone’ I’m not sure you can unhear it), but the cast fails to wring chemistry out of his Byzantine wordage, and the relationships often don’t convince.
The casting of Hutchinson’s actual mum Sally George as Little Voice’s monstrously self-absorbed mother Mari has been pushed as a bit of a USP, but the pair never quite click in the roles. She captures Mari’s sozzled selfishness amusingly, but not her nastiness, which takes some of the wind out of the bitter denouement. A running ‘joke’ about Mari’s sidekick Sadie (Jamie-Rose Monk) being fat is dated under any circumstances, but especially so when it’s as blithely milked for easy laughs as it is. Shaun Prendergast is good as Leo, though, a slick club owner with a churning undercurrent of nastiness.
Not a defining production, but it essentially pulls off this tricky play, and whatever flaws there are seem remote whenever Hutchinson sings.