Last week saw the debut of a brand new production of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice as part of a UK tour. First seen in stage in 1992, it has been revived several times since and is perhaps best known for its 1998 movie adaptation starring Jane Horrocks. How do you follow in those iconic footsteps? The answer is with the most genius and dare I say perfect casting choice ever.
Written by Jim Cartwright, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice introduces us to the life of our titular character whose “little voice” is amplified when it is discovered she can embody her favourite divas through uncanny impressions. Through the play, she has to navigate her feelings following the death of her beloved father, the difficult relationship with her overzealous mother and a manager who wants to exploit her gifts for his own gain.
The role of Little Voice is played by US impressionist Christina Bianco. Her own brilliant shows regular see her portray every diva imaginable with her flawless impressions, so it feels fitting that she is passed the baton for this new production. One humorous detail is that Christina regularly does an impression of Jane Horrocks character from Absolutely Fabulous in her own shows, but for this role, she is channelling her own take on the character rather than ironically trying to impersonate anyone else. With divas such as Barbra Streisand, Liza Minelli, Judy Garland and Shirley Bassey already in her wheelhouse, Christina brings these out in the character of LV perfectly.
What may come as a surprise to some is how far Christinas talent extends. Having previously starred as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl in Paris, she demonstrates a phenomenal talent for acting as she takes us on LV’s complicated journey through a quiet determination that proves captivating and emotional throughout. Rather fittingly, the play culminates with the character of Little Voice being able to sing in her own voice for the first time rather than impersonate, and hearing Christinas own beautiful voice in this moment felt a bit like art imitating life.
Little Voice’s mother Mari Hoff is played by the wonderful Shobna Gulati. Having impressed both on stage and screen in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie¸ she is quite possibly even better in this role. Giving an acting masterclass in what is predominantly a comedic and eccentric role, Shobna shows fabulous versatility in a role that at times requires a more emotional and serious tone. Always funny but on the right side of farcical, hers is a character I was glued to whenever she was on the stage and the polar opposite to Christinas Little Voice.
As Sadie, Fiona Mulvaney gives an outlandish yet often hilarious turn, forming a formidable double act with Shobna which in turn leads to some of the best moments of the show. Ian Kelsey gives a great turn as Ray Say, the love interest of Mari who ends up taking more of an interest in her daughter, William Ilkley makes audiences groan for all the right reasons (Not like that. Get your minds out of the gutter) with his routines as Mr Boo and Akshay Gulati melts hearts as the sweet though admittedly underused Billy.
Directed by Bronagh Lagan and produced by Aria Entertainment and Glass Half Full productions, this tour might be playing to venues more on the little side but that doesn’t stop the stage being grand. The fantastic set design from Sara Perks sees the two storey house with multiple rooms being used to great effect, with the only change coming from a curtain that drops to resemble Mr Boos club where LV performs.
Brilliant lighting design from Nic Farman keeps the stage active with it being plunged into darkness on multiple occasions, sparks flying both metaphorically and literally and even a clever resemblance of a fire. There are challenges in the sound department which are played out to fantastic effect - while Little Voice may be softly spoken, the audience never struggle to hear what she has to say.
While this is a play, it does feature some musical numbers, giving Christina the chance to show off her immeasurable talents. Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Cilla Black, Marilyn Monroe and Cilla Black are just some of the flawless impersonations we get through the evening, with the main performance in act 2 being just as showstopping as you would expect. Key moments from the film are present though some other elements have been changed. While the bit about the death of Little Voices father feels like it could have been a bit more fleshed out to make certain moments all the more emotional, this is a play that takes you by the heart and makes it soar.
This production may have arrived on stage much later than was planned due to the pandemic but it was certainly worth the wait. In a role she was born to play, Christina Bianco really does rise to the occasion as Little Voice, joined by a truly remarkable cast. With brilliant staging and a show that is guaranteed to put a smile on your face, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice really is a triumph.
The Rise and Fall of Little Voice tours the UK until July 16th. Full dates and tickets at www.littlevoiceuk.com
Photos by Pamela Raith