THEATRE REVIEW: Little Voice - but a story with a big heart, big belly laughs and bitter tears

The cast of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at Scarborough's Stephen Joseph Theatre.
The cast of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at Scarborough's Stephen Joseph Theatre.
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You may be more familiar with the 1990s film version starring Jane Horrocks, Michael Caine and Brenda Blethyn - but if you are making a trip to its Scarborough setting this summer, make sure you grab a ticket for this wonderful bittersweet stage show.

The smash hit movie about a timid diva-loving singer being thrust unwantedly into the spotlight was based on a screenplay by Jim Cartwright - but now it is back on stage and back in the town where the film version was set.

If, somehow, you've never seen either the film or the play, let me quickly bring you up to speed.

Little Voice (or LV) is a painfully shy young girl who spends all day, every day locked in her bedroom playing the records of the likes of Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey and Marilyn Monroe and avoiding her tarty, alcoholic mother Mari in their ramshackle and rancid house, both clearly hoping for a way out of the worlds they find themselves in.

A seedy, local talent agent by the name of Ray Say discovers the singing talents of LV and her ability to mimic her idols while fighting off the amourous advances of her man-mad mother - and realises that he might have found the ticket to his fame and fortune.

But enough of the story, to the production itself.

Staged "in the round," as of course all plays at the Stephen Joseph Theatre are, the staging allows us to be drawn into the downtrodden world of Mari and her daughter.

A grubby sofa used for sexual liaisons, a food-stained, ageing cooker and spirit bottles deposited liberally around the flat and LV's tidy and pristine bedroom where she keeps her prized records (accessed by a set of gaudily carpeted stairs) beautifully display the contrasting worlds occupied by the pair.

And what a pair.

Serena Manteghi is absolutely incredible as LV, mimicking the likes of Bassey, Monroe and Edith Piaf with flawless ease - especially in the "birdcage" scene, where she rattles through a string of different songs by a handful of performers without missing a note and switching effortlessly between them.

She also manages to capture the coy timidity and shyness of the character perfectly and the awkward scenes between her and would-be suitor Billy (Gurjeet Singh) give a glimpse into the life possible away from the hellhole she currently lives in.

And that's down to Polly Lister, who throws everything into a marvellously enthusiastic and gritty portrayal of the slutty and drunken Mari.

Careering around the stage dressed in a variety of tarty outfits, she manages to capture brilliantly the spirit of a mother trying to do their best, but failing miserably while in pursuit of happiness, fuelled by her own selfish goals.

The comic interchanges between her and best pal Sadie (Laura Crowhurst) produce some real big belly-laughs, and Sean McKenzie as Ray Say is perfectly cast as the sleazy agent.

McKenzie manages to veer between greedy and fame-hungry and seeing LV as his ticket to riches to genuinely caring for his protege and wanting her to escape the condemned house in which they live.

Completing the small but spot-on cast is Sion Tudor Owen, whose rumbling Welsh tones transport nightclub owner Mr Boo right out of Scarborough's North Bay and deep into the valleys of South Wales - but this doesn't detract from the grim and grotty northeness of it all, it it just adds another shade of colour to a watertight script that packs just ad many moments of misery and drama as it does comedy and colour.

Little Voice is a play, that despite its bleak points and portrayal of working class life, will have you leaving the theatre with a song in your heart and giving the cast a standing ovation.

If you're heading to the East Coast this summer, make sure you have a big night out with Little Voice.

You won't be disappointed.

The Rise And Fall of Little Voice

Stephen Joseph Theatre

Scarborough

Until August 19

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