Jim Cartwright wrote THE RISE AND FALL OF LITTLE VOICE in 1992 but the play seems to be set some years earlier, in the late sixties or seventies. A great play can over the decades be interpreted through the lens of that particular period.
In all likelihood the play was probably interpreted as yet another great kitchen sink drama where poverty and lack of status turns people into monsters.
Today it could be interpreted through the me too movement where women are ruthlessly exploited with the promise of love or fame. However it doesn’t matter because you can enjoy it simply as a night of great theatre.
Jim Cartwright calls this play a modern fairytale where Little Voice alone in her room (the tower) mourns for her recently departed father through listening to his old record collection comprising mainly of divas such as Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey and Marilyn Monroe. She must be rescued by a gentle prince in the unlikely form of a meek telephone technician. Below her room is a world of tumult with a drunken mother storming about irresponsibly with a manipulative beau both of whom are trying to exploit Little Voice’s freakish talent for mimicking great singers.
With her stutter and almost pathological shyness, the last place she can be is in the public eye. And like the princess in the tower she can only escape with the prince who has found the key to it, that key being love.
As Mari Hoff, Caroline O’Connor seems to wish the audience to banish thoughts of her music theatre background which often comprised of cute characters aided by her Betty Boop eyes.
In a bravura performance, she rages across the stage like a tornado which ultimately turns in on itself. As an alcoholic slattern, she tragically and poignantly misjudges everyone around her from her supposed lover to her own daughter. Nevertheless Caroline O’Connor creates great moments of humour from toppling about drunk in a slapstick manner to her mispronunciation of words. Her role demands times of manic, joyous highs to utter devastation and despair. O’Connor navigates the rollercoaster of emotions triumphantly.
As Little Voice Geraldine Hakewill is the perfect foil to Caroline O’Connor’s brashness by successfully portraying extreme introversion, fragility and vulnerability. Her character is more difficult because she is so non verbal and her personality is conveyed often by facial expressions, gesture and an almost foetal like posture. Hakewill completely inhabits the role portraying a defenceless, sensitive yet tender soul. Perhaps the most superlative part of Hakewill’s performance was her strong voice with her accurate mimicry of great divas such as Shirley Bassey, Judy Garland, Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf to name but a few.
Joseph Del Re is also excellent as Mari Hof’s debauched, manipulative lover, Ray Say. He works as a small time agent and he spies the talents of Little Voice as his chance to make it into the Big Time.
Kip Chapman as Mr Boo captures the fading humour of an obsolete vaudevillian era with his arching gestures, leery face and lame jokes together with his rat cunning in his negotiations about Little Voice.
Bishanyia Vincent as Sadie plays a minor but important role as Mari Hof’s neighbour. Vincent capably portrays a gormless sweetness which makes her the perfect target for Mari Hof’s rages and exploitation.
Charles Wu as Billy succeeds in evoking the sweet tenderness and longing his character has for Little Voice.
Shaun Rennie as director must, in his own words, ‘underscore the gutter with the poetic…the irreverent with the lyrical, the realistic with the fantastical…for which Cartwright is best known. He succeeds admirably.
The show featured a very impressive two tiered stage design by Isabel Hudson and Shaun Rennie moves his characters with fluidity and grace between the two levels. Little Voice’s bedroom features beautifully rendered charcoal drawings of a few of her much loved divas; Shirley Bassey, Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe.
Kingsley Reeve’s soundscape and Trent Suidgeest’s lighting design were strong elements of the production.
This was a good night in the theatre featuring a powerhouse second Act,
LITTLE VOICE will leave you with a full heart. A Darlinghurst Theatre Company production the show runs at the Eternity Playhouse until 24th February, 2019.