Tag Archives: Jim Cartwright

“The Rise and Fall of Little Voice” at the Park Theatre

This misguided new production of Jim Cartwright’s excellent play is a disappointment. Given the much-loved 1998 film, expectations on any revival are bound to be a heavy burden. But the characters of Little Voice, a reclusive singer impressionist, and her mother, the inimitable Mari, were written for the stage. Director Tom Latter makes a mess of allowing us the luxury of seeing them live.

Rafaella Hutchinson takes the lead and should be pleased with her performance. She might portray Little Voice’s meekness a little more, but the character’s fear and anger are convincing. Hutchinson’s singing voice is strong, although the impersonations get stuck at Judy Garland. It ends up pleasing – rather than amazing – to see her character move from bedroom to stage, so Hutchinson’s talent feels wasted.

The problem is that the play is horribly rushed. Hutchinson stands her ground against Latter’s speedy approach, but the rest of the cast suffers. Kevin McMonagle, as the budding promoter hoping to exploit young talent, becomes shrill and annoying. And while Linford Johnson, as the love interest Billy, has good chemistry with Hutchinson, the scenes between them both are too brief to enjoy.

Sally George as Mari
Sally George as Mari

Worse still is the fate of Mari. It’s understandable that she delivers some lines at a cracking speed – it shows how smart she is. But the character is then undermined. Latter, and his partner-in-crime associate director Anita Dobson, interpret a facility for language as mistakes. So Mari’s plays on words become malapropisms and we end up laughing at her, rather than with her. It’s all a special shame since Sally George has the stage presence needed for the role – and when tensions between mother and daughter reach a crisis point, she gives a moving performance. But we are unprepared to appreciate how desperate Mari is, or how much self-knowledge she possesses. A patronising tone, seen throughout the production, leaves the play without rise or fall, as if watching it on a flat screen.

Until 15 September 2018


Photo by Scarlett Casciello (top) and Ali Wright (inset)

“Road” at the Royal Court

Just before the interval during Jim Cartwright’s play, two young
unemployed characters, who have taken to their bed depressed, rage about their lives and imagine “the last job in the world”. It’s a startlingly contemporary moment, given speculation about the perilous future of employment, in a production too-happily rooted in the mid 80s of the play’s origin. The soundtrack, dialect, and accurate costumes in Chloe Lamford’s design, all serve to examine The North in Thatcher’s Britain, and they do so authentically. But, when combined with John Tiffany’s precise direction, a painful history is presented with a coldly anthropological air.

Mark Hadfield
Mark Hadfield

Life on an average road is presented in a series of short scenes, visiting different characters. There are frustrations with this snapshot treatment, but the standard of each scene is high and the anger from Cartwright and his characters stands in contrast to the clinical approach that prevails in this revival. Several monologues are highlights, in particular those with a nostalgic air performed superbly by June Watson and Mark Hadfield. The challenges of the text are meat and drink to the talented cast, who Tiffany has clearly worked closely with, nearly all of whom perform more than one role and differentiate characters superbly – none more so than Michelle Farley whose transformations astonish.

Michelle Farley with Mike Noble
Michelle Farley with Mike Noble

Our visit is guided by a narrator, played by Lemn Sissay. His
character’s focus is a good night out and jokes about the escapism of sex and alcohol threaten to take over, driven by Tiffany’s high energy approach. It’s left to Jonathan Watkins’ direction of movement to add gravitas and appreciate Cartwright’s poetry. That the show plays a little uncomfortably amongst the wealth of Sloane Square is testament to its confrontational approach. Cartwright appreciates the sharp wit of his protagonists – there are some very funny retorts here – but the laughs around the poor and uneducated come with a warning. Moods change within seconds,  on the whim of a fraught nerve, and darkness prevails despite the production’s over-enthusiastic moments.

Until 9 September 2017


Photo by Johan Persson

“The Rise and Fall of Little Voice” at the Union Theatre

This, the last show before the venue moves across the road to a swanky new home (with nicer loos, one hopes), continues a tradition of strong productions. Jim Cartwright’s hit 1992 play makes for an entertaining, dramatic evening with belly laughs secured by Alastair Knights.

This is a fairy tale, of sorts, with appropriately dark tones. Our Cinderella is a teenager with a taste for diva records she is uncannily good at imitating. Carly Thoms takes the title role, giving a concentrated performance. Credit, please, for speaking softly yet being heard – that’s not easy. When her turn in the spotlight arrives, performing as Shirley Bassey, Judy Garland and more, shine she does. I could happily have heard more from Thoms. Especially her Marilyn Monroe.

Along the way there are some good performances from those ready to exploit Little Voice’s talent: Ken Christiansen as wannabe agent Ray Say and James Peake as a local nightclub manager. Mandy Dassa gets laughs as the next-door neighbour of Little Voice’s dangerously dilapidated home. One minor quibble is the lack of chemistry between Little Voice and Glenn Adamson as her sweet, but underwritten, love interest.

Charlotte Gorton
Charlotte Gorton

It’s the wicked witch who makes the show – Little Voice’s mother Mari Hoff – a fabulous creation of Cartwright’s, with the soul of a poet and the slingbacks of Bet Lynch. The costumes alone get laughs (designer Libby Todd must have searched hard for that much leopard print). And Charlotte Gorton is superb as the garrulous whirlwind with her rapid-fire Northern wit. Even more impressively, Gorton develops the role from the ‘merry widow’ we first encounter to a figure as tragic as she is vicious. Great stuff.

Until 25 June 2016


Photos by Scott Rylander