You’d be hard pushed to say Little Voice is a joyful night at the theatre, even though it is billed as a comedy, it really is quite a sad and depressing story, full of anger, desperation, and regret. But still, at its core, there is a nugget of hope and a wishful dream that takes you past the sadness and into a world of ‘if only’ – and you leave the theatre hoping that the characters you’ve just seen lay themselves bare on the stage, can find the happiness they so obviously need. Somehow, I don’t think they will unfortunately.
The play opens by introducing us to our two key characters of Mari Hoff (played with Northern aplomb by Coronation Street icon Shobna Gulati) and her meek and usually silent daughter LV (the quite spectacularly voiced Christina Bianco). We are immediately aware of the struggles they are facing as individuals and as a family… alcoholism, bereavement, poverty, and loneliness are apparent. The strain between the two is obvious and at times makes for uncomfortable viewing. Mari’s desperation for love and her dependency on alcohol pushes LV further and further away. It’s not until a love interest, Ray Say (played as a Northern Del Boy by Ian Kelsey), starts to show an interest in LV’s obvious vocal talents that Mari gives her daughter some attention.
We learn that after her father’s untimely death, LV’s coping mechanism was to listen to his old records of 50’s and 60’s female singers to take herself away to a world where he might still exist. In doing so, she has learnt to mimic these singers with such accuracy you can barely tell she is singing. Ray, as a failed showbiz agent, decides she needs to be on the stage and sets about making her a star in the local working men’s club. Things don’t go quite to the star plan he envisages as Mari’s jealousy sets in and LV finds she cannot cope with the performing… but along the way we are treated to the main attraction of the play, a show- stopping ten-minute performance from LV as she imitates the stars she loves and has listened to for years.
To be fair, this amazing performance from Christina Bianco is worth the admission price in itself, as she rattles through some outstanding renditions of classics by Liza, Judy, Barbara and Shirley. Her vocal talents are amazing, and the mimicry is truly spectacular. Christina Bianco has been a stalwart of the cabaret scene for some years and this play is the perfect outlet for her talents. The role of LV was written for and originated by Jane Horrocks in the early 90’s and you can see how the character pulls on Jane’s acting style. In the supporting roles of Mari and Ray, Shobna Gulati and Ian Kelsey, deliver performances of broken dreams and fake glamour… you want to support them in their sadness, but they really aren’t likeable enough to care about – and their eventual demise into personal bitterness is seen as deserved.
As I said at the start of this review, this is not a ‘joyful’ evening of entertainment, but it is a very well-produced play with some great performances. The staging is mainly set within the family home – a two story house of kitchen/lounge and LV’s bedroom – this gives great scope for crossovers of scenes and plenty of real time movements. For her performances at the men’s club a glitter tinsel curtain and stage lights are brought down as a backdrop for LV to perform in front of – simple but effective.
So, all in all, I was very impressed with this latest touring version of Little Voice but found it surprisingly sad compared to my memories of previous theatre productions and the 1998 film version. No-one can deny the talent seen on stage when Christina is belting out her main performances and I will be seeking out her one-woman show in the future. This tour runs on into the summer and is definitely worth a look.