WHEN Jim Cartwright’s play The Rise and Fall of Little Voice opened 30 years ago, the performances of Alison Steadman and Jane Horrocks took the critical breath away from the London reviewers.
Its impact continues, and several revivals have delighted audiences around the country and the world.
Now a new production, starring Shobna Gulati as the monstrous Mari Hoff and Christina Bianco as Little Voice, is touring the UK and proving that its impact is undiminished by the years and familiarity. It opened at Southampton’s MAST and visits 16 venues around the country.
With the television and on-line sensation Bianco in the central role, this tour could so easily have been a vehicle for her astonishing vocal impersonations, but the American-born actress proves herself so much more than a cover artist. She’s as spellbinding as the shy, unhappy Scarborough lass, protecting herself from the excesses and abuses of her equally unhappy mother, as she is belting out the tunes from her late father’s record collection in the privacy of her bedroom.
Ian Kelsey is a kinder, less sleazy Ray Say than some of his predecessors, making his rejection of Mari all the more painful.
The language is coarser and less self-conscious than in the original, and Shobna Gulati makes the most of the touchingly horrible Mari, trapped by circumstances and wrapped in self-pity.
Her real-life son Akshay Gulati makes Billy a sweet, kind and three-dimensional suitor for the terrified LV, and Fiona Mulvaney follows in the footsteps of the great Annette Badland as the needy and needed Sadie from next door.
Christina Bianco and Shobna Gulati make this remarkable play their own, bringing a powerful sense of national polarisation and the reality of hopeless poverty and its effects that was perhaps missing when it first came to the stage. It’s not just a celebration of a remarkable talent but a stunning insight into reality – not that aspirational faux-drama that is pumped into our living rooms night after night.