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 The Theatreguide.London Review


The Rise and Fall of Little Voice
Vaudeville Theatre 2009-2010

Jim Cartwright's 1992 comedy-drama-musical is built around a shy teenager who has the uncanny ability to sing exactly like Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey and other brassy divas - the role was written to take advantage of the party trick of actress Jane Horrocks - and around her mother's and agent's attempts to exploit that freakish talent.

Like many of Cartwright's other plays, it's really about working class dreams and limitations, and the frustrations that come from the clash between the two.

The play actually centres on the mother, and a bravura performance by Lesley Sharp is the outstanding attraction of this revival.

The mother is a drunken slag of almost Viz cartoon proportions, and Sharp, while never hiding the character's ugliness, makes her the most alive and life-loving character onstage, a kind of slim and faded-sexy Falstaff who you'd run from in real life but can't help loving onstage. (It helps that Cartwright gives her an obscene eloquence that frequently rises to real poetry.)

Playing a drunk is fun for any actor. Playing a broad, exaggerated character can be easier than quieter and more subtle acting. But Sharp does it with such gusto and abandon that the performance is irresistible.

And she also lets us see the wounded woman inside the slut, who actually cares for her daughter and who wants the same things for her and for herself that any more respectable woman would. Cartwright gives her a couple of nakedly tender moments - one of them carrying the added black irony of her baring her soul to someone she doesn't realise isn't in the room - and Sharp is especially touching then, in part because she can instantly swing back into her comic harridan mode.

Little Voice herself is played by Diana Vickers, a TV talent competition non-winner who proves more than adequate at portraying the withdrawn teen. Unlike Jane Horrocks, who actually seemed to be channelling the originals, Vickers is clearly doing impressions.

Her Garland and Bassey are quite good, her Piaf, Andrews and others less so, but there is never the sense of something really spooky happening, just of a club-level tribute act.

Marc Warren makes the slimy agent a lot darker and less charming than you might expect, and Rachel Lumberg is droll as the mother's put-upon drinking buddy.

But the real attraction here is Lesley Sharp, giving what is surely the finest comic performance and, in its subtler moments, one of the finest dramatic performances of the year.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Rise and Fall of Little Voice - Vaudeville 2009