The Rise and Fall of Little Voice review – northern fairytale has lost sparkle | Theatre


Jim Cartwright’s northern fairytale is a little faded 30 years after its glittering first debut. Once the play that thrust Jane Horrocks into the public eye, it no longer feels surprising enough to warrant its repeated revivals.

This time it is Christina Bianco’s turn to take the role of Little Voice – a quivering, borderline agoraphobic girl who only comes alive when mimicking the vocals of the female singers in her late father’s record collection. But when Ray (Ian Kelsey), one of the boyfriends of her alcohol-fuelled mother, Mari (Shobna Gulati), spots her talent, she is forced to perform for audiences outside the walls of her greying bedroom.

In song, Bianco breaks away from her timidity and transforms into something wondrous. But it is Gulati who propels the drama as a flailing, brassy Mari. Dressed in a satin pink robe, she scrappily prowls around after Ray, desperate to hold his attention. Laden with crudeness, the jokes don’t land as neatly as they might have done in 1992. And the neighbour character, Sadie, has suffered a particular hit – the comedy poking fun at her feels dated.

Christina Bianco (left) with Shobna Gulati and Ian Kelsey in the doll’s house set.
Peels back the walls … Christina Bianco (left) and Shobna Gulati with Ian Kelsey in the doll’s house set. Photograph: Pamela Raith

Aided by a sliced open doll’s house set, designed by Sara Perks, the production, directed by Bronagh Lagan, peels back the walls of the dysfunctional pair’s family home. And, with two blazing working-class women at its heart, Cartwright’s script still shines a light on the daily hardships of living in economic poverty.

Little Voice’s teaching that “no one listens to anyone but themselves”, is significant in a Twitter-dominated world. But ultimately this is a play that has lost its sparkle.

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