Theatre review - The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, Thwaites Empire Theatre, Blackburn

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice - Credit: Archant

Rob Gemmell on the Blackburn Drama Club’s production of the Jim Cartwright play; The Rise and Fall of Little Voice

Playwright Jim Cartwright is Lancashire born and bred. He was born in the village of Farnworth and has written countless plays that have been performed all over the world. One of his most famous plays was of Little Voice, the play that was promoted to the big screen with Jane Horrocks in the title role and with support from Brenda Blethyn and Sir Michael Caine. But, pushing Oscar winning talent to one side, it was the turn of Blackburn Drama Club to step into the spotlight.

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is a story that covers a whole aspect of genres and events, from love and loss to selfishness and shyness and understanding, or lack of in this case. Little Voice (LV) is a young, shy recluse girl who is happiest when she is in her room listening to the records left to her by her late father. Her mother, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of her. She is brash, loud and usually full of drink. The pair have very little in common, aside from the blood in their veins.

One evening, LV’s mother, Mari, brings her “hopefully soon to be new flame” home, Ray Say, who also happens to be a showbiz agent and a sleazy one at that. Following on from a night on the tiles and the ale, the pair end up back at Mari’s run-down house. It is during one of many power cuts in the house that Ray believes he has struck gold. He hears something that LV has always kept close in her heart, her voice.

With pound signs springing into his eyes, he sets about making LV a star and to also seek fame and fortune for himself, mostly the latter. But Little Voice’s gift is one she does not want to share. It is her secret, her bond, her only way of clinging onto happiness.

When I picked up the programme one of the first things I noticed was that I didn’t recognise all of the names of the cast which goes to demonstrate the size of the Drama Club and the multitude of talents that lie within.

From the opening curtain it was evident that everyone involved in the Production had put everything they had into making it successful. The set was compact and complex but worked to perfection and really portrayed not just the many levels in the house, but the representation of the many levels of each other’s lives. Directors Carolanne Connolly and Steven Derbyshire have taken a huge Production, shrunk it down to fit onto a small stage, but then projected it back again to West End standards with their vision of the play. Everything worked perfectly.

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Every single member of the cast needs to have their individual praise as every single performance was executed 100% to perfection. Jim Cartwright’s web of quirky characters add eccentricity and colour into the play and it was essential for the cast to ensure their individual performances of characters differed greatly from one another to truly honour the script.

James Lilley played Billy, the mirror opposite of LV. He too has a timid nature to his character and blended perfectly with his love interest. Andrew Smith performed dual roles as the Phone Man and also the wonderfully crafted Lou Boo, club owner extraordinaire. Andrew’s performance was taken to a whole new level when he played up to the audience in true compere fashion seizing the moment and entertaining the crowd in the process. Jonathan Mallinson played Sam, the quiet family friend who rarely had anything to say, but had a heart of gold. Jonathon’s awareness of the character was absolutely spot on making him a very warming character. Clive Stack was truly wonderful as Ray Say in a chameleon like performance working with Ray’s uncertain behaviour. The two stars of the show were Mari and Little Voice played by Kate Roberts and Beth Turnbull respectively. Kate’s rendition of LV’s mother had the audience howling with laughter as she delivered sayings and phrases incorrectly as Mari would do, but also brought us some heart stopping emotion in darker moments of the story. Lastly, I am struggling to find the words to describe Beth Turnbull’s Little Voice. It was faultless. Every aspect and every element of her character was faultless and then she blew us away with a truly amazing singing voice. There were also moments during the play that her performance brought tears to my eyes. Having read the cast notes before the show, I learnt that Beth was auditioning for drama schools in London and that performance deserved her not just a place on the course, but a place on a professional stage.

I was absorbed in the whole show from the moment the curtain opened until the cast took their well deserved applause at the end and, given a choice, I would definitely go and watch it again.

The snowy weather outside the theatre did not deter the enjoyment of the performance or the attendance from the audience and was cleverly used as an “ad-lib” during one of Clive Stack’s speeches as Ray, much to everyone’s amusement. Through wind, rain or snow, you should ensure that you do not miss this show.

The show continues from Thursday 1st March with the last performance on Saturday 3rd March at 7.30pm. For more information visit the Thwaites Empire website –