Theatre review: The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at The Lowry, Salford

Christina Bianco, as Little Voice, in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice

Christina Bianco, as Little Voice, in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice - Credit: Pamela Raith Photography

You will laugh, you will be silenced, you will cheer and you will leave happy. The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at The Lowry is a joy to behold 

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice was written in 1990, specifically for Jane Horrocks, who playwright Jim Cartwright had worked with on his debut play, Road. He witnessed Horrocks mimic Edith Piaf, Judy Garland and Shirley Bassey and learned that she had developed the skill while at school, to keep bullies at bay by raising a laugh. While Horrocks may have set the bar high during her own time with Little Voice in the West End, and in the screen version, this tour’s lead, Christina Bianco has hurdled it and gives a magnificent performance, both as a timid, delicate child of an overbearing mother, and as a mimic of some of the world’s most famous divas, from Marilyn Munroe to Shirley Bassey. More on this later, however, as at this point we just have to talk about Shobna Gulati, as the foul-mouthed poet Mari, Little Voice’s horrific mother. 

LV (Christina Bianco), Mari (Shobna Gulati) and Ray Say (Ian Kelsey) in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, 2022

LV (Christina Bianco), Mari (Shobna Gulati) and Ray Say (Ian Kelsey) in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, 2022 - Credit: Pamela Raith

From the moment Shobna steps onto the stage, she owns it. There couldn’t be a more dramatic contrast between this larger than life, angry, drunk, selfish, self-centred nightmare of a mother and her quiet, withdrawn, gentle daughter, Little Voice, or LV, as she is known. As Mari, Shobna overfills her space on the stage, while LV barely makes a dent on the sofa. She’s brash, vulgar, a terrifying wanna-be cougar desperate for a man to take her away from the self-inflicted realities of her existence. While she grabs at life, LV hides from it. While she fills her space with her own noise, LV barely speaks, choosing to spend every moment listening to the records her father left her when he died. While her dress sense is loud and shiny, LV’s is quiet and neutral. Mari is overwhelmingly, irredeemably, awful. You will wait in vain for a moment of self-awareness, or for softness towards her child – yet she’s hilariously watchable, providing the kind of car crash viewing we’re more used to with reality TV. Her comic timing is perfection and she delivers the very clever writing of Cartwright with precision, her mixing up of common words and phrases interspersed with almost Shakespearian lyricism. 

Ian Kelsey, as Ray Say, the hopeful impresario desperate to launch LV into the world of showbiz, whether she wants it or not, is also a star turn. The bluff, jolly, man of the world Mari hopes to ensnare quickly becomes shady, slimy and finally abusive as he sees his dreams tumble around his ears. 

LV (Christina Bianco) and Ray Say (Ian Kelsey) The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, 2022

LV (Christina Bianco) and Ray Say (Ian Kelsey) The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, 2022 - Credit: Pamela Raith

Christina Bianco has a lot to contend with, to hold her own in this cast, but hold her own she does. Her vocal abilities are extraordinary. She belts out the songs performed by Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich, Shirley Bassey, Marilyn Monroe and Billie Holiday, in their voices, in a way that is positively eerie; one could almost believe in possession, to hear her rendition of Happy Birthday, Mr President... She also holds her own in LV’s quiet moments. When faced with the whirlwind that is Mari she loses none of her presence on the stage, instead becoming the peace at the centre of the storm. 

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is, I think, a must-see show. A balance of comedy and tragedy, of humour, pathos and sheer, unadulterated musical brilliance, it’s a night out you won’t regret. 

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice plays at The Lowry until 11 June